SEIU local, in turmoil, calls off march on Rahm’s office

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

A Service Employees International Union local that has been supportive of Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday announced, then called off a march to protest Emanuel’s failure to abide by a contract extension that includes a one percent pay raise due this month.

The on-again-off-again decision to turn against the mayor comes one month after union leaders were removed and emergency trustees installed in their place to resolve an embarassing civil war at SEIU Local 73.

The union represents roughly 2,000 employees, including crossing guards, aviation security officers, traffic control and parking enforcement aides, animal control officers and civilian police lock-up employees.

At issue is a contract extension that, the union contends, was hammered out in late June and was “expected to be finalized in July.”

It calls for city employees represented by Local 73 to receive a one percent pay raise in August and another one percent raise on Jan. 1. The previous agreement expired on June 30.

“We keep our promises by keeping our city safe every day. Our mayor needs to keep his promises, too,” crossing guard Elizabeth Burnside was quoted as saying in a press release announcing the now-cancelled Wednesday march on the mayor’s office.

“We love our work. But, we don’t love trying to send our own kids back to school without raises to help us afford the things they need.”

But, Matt Brandon, the ousted secretary-treasurer of Local 73, argued that that Emanuel was not to blame.

Brandon said the contract extension that includes the pair of one percent pay raises was never finalized before the “hostile takeover” of the union takeover of the union precipitated by his dispute with ousted union president Christine Boardman.

“The guy I had assigned to prepare for contract negotiations with the city was summarily fired by Christine because he was aligned with me. That threw everything into an uproar,” Brandon said Tuesday.

“That negotiation process began with us talking about a one-year contract extension and we were still in the middle of bargaining what that would look like when Christine suspended me and cancelled further negotiations. They’re claiming there was a deal for a one-year contract. But, that was never finalized.”

Hours after the Chicago Sun-Times posted a story about the Wednesday march on the mayor’s office, the protest was cancelled, for, what an SEIU spokesperson called the “best possible reasons.”

“After Local 73 members who keep this city running announced that they would be taking action tomorrow, the city agreed to meet with them and work out a solution. This is already a sign of progress for thousands of Chicago families,” an SEIU spokesperson based in Washington wrote in an email.

Earlier this month, Brandon accused SEIU of ordering a “hostile takeover” of Local 73 and threatened to file a federal discrimination lawsuit to reverse the international’s installation of emergency trustees and a Circuit Court lawsuit to enforce a membership vote to install Brandon in Boardman’s place.

The international maintained that the dramatic takeover was needed to stop “incessant fighting” between Boardman and Brandon that had “reached a boiling point and seriously disrupted the operations and functioning of the Local, putting members’ interests at risk.”

“Both Mr. Brandon and Ms. Boardman were claiming to be the rightful President of Local 73, causing democratic self-governance to break down completely,” said Eliseo Medina, who was installed as the trustee of Local 73.

Brandon told a dramatically different story.

He maintained that Boardman announced her retirement, then changed her mind after union members had already voted to install Brandon as her replacement.

“I don’t view this as a trusteeship. I view it as a hostile takeover. What the international failed to address was the fact there was a vote by the membership based on a motion by Christine Boardman that she would retire in June and, per the constitution and bylaws, I would then assume that office with an election of the executive board to follow within 30 days,” Brandon told the Chicago Sun-Times on the day after the takeover.

“To rescind a motion requires a two-thirds vote. Christine refused to do that. Said she didn’t have to do that. She said she simply changed her mind. When I went in to chair the July executive board meeting, I informed her that, based upon the vote of the membership and the executive board, she was retired. She adjourned the meeting, stormed out and cancelled the general membership meeting scheduled for the next day. The rules be damned.”

The rare takeover and public airing of dirty laundry at Local 73 was a bit of a blow to Emanuel.

Last year, SEIU Local 73 filed a “cease-and-desist” request asking that SEIU Health Care stop bankrolling the campaign of vanquished mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

At the time, Brandon noted that Local 73 had the most city employees of any other SEIU chapter and believed Emanuel was “doing a good job.” He credited the mayor with creating 250 new positions and protecting 3,000 jobs within the Chicago Board of Education.

SEIU Local 73 has also supported the “basic constructs” of Emanuel’s original deal to save two of four city employee pension funds by raising property taxes by $250 million and increasing employee contributions by 29 percent.

The agreement that Boardman backed was subsequently overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court. That forced the mayor to announce a replacement agreement earlier this month.

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