Civil war triggers trustee takeover at Emanuel-allied union
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Union leaders have been removed and emergency trustees installed in their place to resolve a civil war at a local union chapter of the Service Employees International Union — a local that has been supportive of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Dramatic takeovers like the one that occurred at SEIU Local 73 are normally reserved for instances of corruption, financial malfeasance or after organized crime infiltrates a union.
This time, it stems from “incessant fighting” between union president Christine Boardman and secretary-treasurer Matt Brandon that apparently “reached a boiling point and seriously disrupted the operations and functioning of the Local, putting members’ interests at risk,” the union stated.
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 of the Local’s governance process as well as causing instability and confusion within the Local and its membership,” the union said in a press release distributed by its media staff based in Washington D.C.
The feud stems from “internal charges, contested suspension of its secretary-treasurer and allegations that the local president can no longer serve due to a previous announcement of retirement,” the release stated.
The infighting got so bad, Local 73 was “unable to conduct” a July 15 executive board meeting or a general membership meeting scheduled for the following day, the union’s press release stated.
Under terms that follow the union’s constitution, Boardman, Brandon and the rest of the Local 73 officers have been removed.
They will be replaced by trustee Eliseo Medina, a former SEIU secretary-treasurer, and a pair of deputy trustees. They are Dian Palmer, president of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, and Lenore Friedlander, an officer from SEIU Local32BJ.
Boardman and Brandon could not be reached for comment.
“Immediate action was needed to protect SEIU Local 73 members,” Medina was quoted as saying in the press release. “We will work to protect the best interests of SEIU Local 73 members by restoring the normal operations and functions of the Local.”
The rare takeover of 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.
Local 73 was determined to enforce a “neutrality vote” that had been taken by the union’s state council.
“I think what SEIU has to do is decide whether they’re going to stand by the principles of unionism that they purport to support or whether they’re going to allow renegade locals” to take matters into their own hands, Brandon told the Chicago Sun-Times then.
“We have a legitimate vote that’s on the table right now for neutrality . . . Anybody who has other opinions probably hasn’t looked at it enough.”
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.
“We’re in support of the increase in employee contributions. We’re in support of the Emanuel plan to try to fund it through property tax increases. The bill is going to pass. I know that. You know that,” Boardman said during the legislative debate.
“We’re not gonna work against the bill. We’ve told that to Speaker [Mike] Madigan. We’re gonna be neutral, only because of the effect it has on retirees.”
The agreement that Boardman backed was subsequently overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court. That forced the mayor to announce a replacement agreement on Wednesday.