Corrupt President Of SEIU To Consult With AUD and TDU About Articulating "bright lines of right and wrong"
|Union Seeks Stronger Ethics Rules Amid Scandals
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
Published: September 2, 2008
THE SERVICE EMPLOYEES International Union, the nation’s fastest-growing and most politically powerful union, said Tuesday it was setting up a high-level ethics commission after scandals at several of its largest locals.
Andrew L. Stern, the union’s president, said in an interview that this commission would be led by an outsider and would establish tougher ethics rules that all of the union’s leaders — at headquarters and in locals — would have to follow.
Mr. Stern announced the commission three days after the president of a local in Los Angeles representing 77,000 county workers stepped aside amid accusations that her local had paid thousands of dollars to her former boyfriend.
The announcement comes 11 days after a second Los Angeles local, representing 155,000 home-care workers, was placed into trusteeship because the local and its training center had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to companies run by the wife, mother-in-law and friends of the local’s president.
“When we who have worked hard to rid ourselves of leaders who don’t respect our laws, when we hold ourselves out as people who expect companies to have high moral standards, and when we work for reforms in our union, our labor movement and our country, these things hurt,” Mr. Stern said.
Senator Barack Obama and the Democrats are looking to the service employees’ union and its 1.8 million members to provide more campaign help than any other union.
The revelations have come as Mr. Stern, who has ousted numerous corrupt officials in the past, has been preoccupied with politics, unionizing more workers and combining locals into larger, more powerful groups — actions that critics say have led to less accountability for local leaders.
Mr. Stern said the commission, expected to have 15 members, would consult anticorruption groups, including the Association for Union Democracy and Teamsters for a Democratic Union, to discuss what ethics rules to adopt and how best to enforce them.
“We will ask every local and every state council to immediately adopt as their minimum standards the international union’s code of ethics, which deals with conflicts of interest, self-dealing and gifts,” Mr. Stern said.
He announced the ethics measures after an internal discussion in which several top advisers urged him to take forceful action. According to e-mail messages obtained from a Stern critic, one longtime adviser, Matt Witt, wrote Mr. Stern that the scandals “will make it hard for you to pursue other opportunities outside S.E.I.U., whether with the administration or a foundation or whatever.” Mr. Stern said he had no interest in another job.
Mr. Witt added, “If you leave while what you built is steadily eroding, the blame will fall on you, not your successor.”
In another e-mail message, Jono Shaffer, a leader of the union’s Justice for Janitors campaign in Los Angeles, wondered why it had taken so long to uncover the problems in that city’s giant home-care local. “I wish I could say this is unbelievable, but for those of us in Southern California, the only surprise is that it took so long to make it to the public,” Mr. Shaffer wrote.
The Labor Department is investigating that Los Angeles local, and a Congressional committee has begun an inquiry about it.
Last week, the president of the union’s 55,000-member health care local in Michigan stepped aside amid accusations of financial wrongdoing. Also last week, the parent union served notice to a 130,000-member health care local in Northern California, threatening to place it into trusteeship because it set up a fund that the parent union says was used for improper purposes. That local is headed by a prominent Stern opponent, Sal Rosselli.
Mr. Rosselli and the other union leaders say they have been wrongly accused.
“By the time our board meets in January, we hope to have in place a world-class set of standards that make sure that the members’ moneys and rights are protected,” Mr. Stern said. “We want to articulate bright lines of right and wrong, and we want to enforce them.”
© NY Times, 2008
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