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Tuesday, Feb 10, 2009, 10:57 am

UNITE HERE! Vice Presidents Sue to Dissolve Union’s Merger

By Jeremy Gantz

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Big news today over at UNITE HERE! Fifteen of the union's vice presidents (representing more than 150,000 former UNITE members) have sued to dissolve the organization. That would reverse the 2004 merging of UNITE (formerly the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees) and HERE (Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union).

The lawsuit, filed last Friday in a federal district court in New York, among other things alleges that leaders of the former HERE union planted political supporters in certain union shops. Unsurprisingly, UNITE HERE's website makes no mention of it. According to the site, the union represents more than 450,000 active members and more than 400,000 retirees throughout North America. So basically, 40 percent of the UNITE HERE's U.S. membership (or at least their leaders) want out. Now.

Strong stuff from this "RESOLUTION of the Committee to Re-UNITE and Rebuild":

WHEREAS, the merger has been a dismal failure—we are not building power to defend our members, and we organized fewer workers than we did before the merger even though we have doubled our organizing expenditures...WE RESOLVE:

1. To undertake any and all steps necessary to dissolve this merger; and

2. To seek an end of the merger which allows former UNITE affiliates to constitute themselves as a collective entity and to include the former HERE affiliates and others who share our vision in the reconstituted UNITE...

The lawsuit complaint is here. Below is the official UNITE HERE press release from today (h/t to Ray Abernathy over at Left Bank of the Potomac.

Fifteen UNITE HERE Vice Presidents Sue to Dissolve Merger

Federal lawsuit seeks declaratory action to end internal conflict; leaders seek return to focus on representing members

Washington - Vice Presidents representing more than 150,000 members of the UNITE HERE labor union (more than 40% of the union’s U.S. membership) have sued to dissolve the merger of the union, which came together in 2004 hoping to become an organizing powerhouse. The move comes as the union’s Executive Board meets this week in Washington, DC.

The conflict at the heart of the lawsuit was evident at the meeting of the Executive Board Monday, as the two sides in the dispute wrangled for hours over procedural and constitutional issues. “In 2004, we established the basis for judging whether this merger has worked. In fact we see that the essential purposes of the merger have failed. Today we saw the future of Unite Here if this merger is allowed to continue. Instead of a collaborative organization built on pooled resources and mutual support, we will have a tyranny run by a faction of the board that will seize the assets built up over a hundred years by garment and textile workers,” said Edgar Romney, Executive Vice President, Manager of the New York Metropolitan Area Joint Board of UNITE HERE. “My members did not elect me to preside over that, and we cannot allow it.”

Click below for pdf of Gillis v. Wilhelm.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in New York, presents arguments for why the Joint Boards affiliated with the former UNITE should be released from the merger agreement and the union’s constitution. It asks the court to recognize them as autonomous organizations, with their own histories, cultures and assets. It further explains how a faction of the merged union’s leadership has used their majority on certain governing bodies to attack other affiliates and their leaders and resources.

That same majority voted down a resolution from 23 leaders from both predecessor unions who proposed a resolution to negotiate dissolution of the merger Monday.

Click below for pdf of RESOLUTION of the Committee to Re-UNITE and Rebuild.

“Folks of color understand clearly why talk about the will and the correctness of the majority makes us uneasy. Throughout the history of this great nation, the interests of minorities have been protected by the court when the majority resisted progress,” explained Clayola Brown, International Vice President and Civil Rights Director of UNITE HERE. “I hope we can count on the courts to recognize that the only way up for our members is out of this merged union.”

The suit lays out the case for the failure of the merger, and alleges the leadership of the former Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees International Union merged with the intention of gaining access to the assets of UNITE and its affiliates, with no intention of working together as partners. It accuses the former HERE leadership of a “breach of the covenants of good faith and fair dealing.”

Leaders of the former HERE are already defendants in an earlier lawsuit seeking to enjoin them from taking unconstitutional actions. Several anti-democratic and fiscally irresponsible actions taken by the Executive Committee in its December meeting are cited in both cases.

The lawsuit also explains some unique and unprecedented situations within this merged union, including attacks on Joint Board leaders’ ability to manage staff and member servicing for their own affiliates, citing examples in Phoenix and Detroit. These situations led to physical altercations and disputes over union property.

The suit also explains that leaders of the former HERE had workers apply and get hired for jobs in union shops in an effort to plant political supporters in the membership. The suit alleges that this and other conflicts have paralyzed the new organization, and left it struggling to do its most essential work, representing workers in these tough economic times.

“All we want is an opportunity to get our members and our organizations out of a bad situation. To be able to leave this failed organization, where there is a lack of trust and too much ill will in every direction,” explained Lynne Fox, International Vice President and Manager of the Philadelphia Joint Board. “In these difficult economic times, I am anxious to get back to being a trade unionist and doing the work I love.”

Jeremy Gantz is a contributing editor at the magazine. He is the editor of The Age of Inequality: Corporate America's War on Working People (2017, Verso), and was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012.

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