The Service Employees International Union was accused Thursday of racial discrimination and of ordering a “hostile takeover” of a Chicago local with ties to Mayor Rahm Emanuel to mask erratic behavior by the president of SEIU Local 73.
Matt Brandon, who was ousted as secretary-treasurer of Local 73 along with Union President Christine Boardman, 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.”
Boardman and Brandon “each challenge the basic legitimacy of the other’s authority to hold office or lead the Local,” resulting in a “debilitating dysfunction” that could not be tolerated, the union said in a press release distributed by its media staff based in Washington D.C.
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,” he said.
“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.”
Boardman did not return repeated phone calls.
Brandon said his relationship with Boardman went south in June 2014.
That’s when he said a vice-president at the international union asked Brandon to deal with a personal issue that was affecting Boardman’s job performance.
“I proceeded in that process as stealthily as I could until Christine eventually found about it. That’s when our relationship was destroyed. She saw me as someone attacking her instead of trying to help her,” he said.
Then, Brandon added, the international “backed away from me and accused me of everything that was wrong in the local. These people don’t know what can of worms they’ve opened here. The members are absolutely furious.”
Brandon, who is black, charged that SEIU “discriminates against African-American males” and that he would “be able to prove that.”
Eliseo Medina, who was installed as the trustee of Local 73, issued an emailed statement that offered no direct response to Brandon’s explosive charges.
“Both Mr. Brandon and Ms. Boardman were claiming to be the rightful President of Local 73, causing democratic self-governance to break down completely,” she said.
“As a result, SEIU had to trustee the local to restore the day-to-day operations and protect the interests of members. We cannot take sides in this dispute. Instead, we encourage Mr. Brandon to bring his concerns to the hearing regarding the trusteeship, which is where these issues are sorted out.”
Brandon said he’s being kept from his rightful place in the union.
“It’s a clear attempt to block me from assuming the position I should have per the constitution and bylaws. You’ll see a very limited number of African-American males in positions of power throughout SEIU. That’s one of the things I constantly brought to their attention. So, I haven’t been one of their favorites,” Brandon said.
“As late as Monday, I sent an email to the international general counsel Judy Scott. I told her I was returning to work from an illegal suspension Christine [Boardman] imposed on July 5. Scott said I was insubordinate and not following her directions. Then, she started issues about what was happening the union.”
The rare takeover and public airing of dirty laundry at a union that represents 14,000 city employees is 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 week.