Ethics Probe in Scandal-Ridden SEIU Must Begin with President Andy Stern
September 10, 2008
AFTER LEADERS OF some of SEIU’s largest locals were revealed to have improperly used union funds to benefit relatives, friends and themselves, Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, announced he was appointing a 15-member ethics commission headed by an outsider, that by next January would put in place “a world-class set of standards that make sure that the money and rights of members are protected.”
Stern’s announcement came just three days after the president of a Los Angeles local, a Stern appointee, representing 77,000 county workers, resigned, after it was revealed that she had paid thousands of dollars from union funds to her former boyfriend.
But the worst scandal erupted a little more than two weeks ago, in which Stern played an enabling role to Tyrone Freeman, his protégé, whom he took from an SEIU job in Georgia and placed him in charge of Local 6434, representing 155,000 home care workers, a local that was formed in 2006 through a consolidation by Stern of six smaller SEIU locals.
Freeman apparently regarded the union treasury as his own, working out financial deals for his wife, mother-in-law, brother-in-law and sports friends, as well as sponsoring a $400,000 golf tournament and a Beverly Hills cigar lounge. Freeman’s members, long-term home care workers, mostly minority women, earn an average $9.00 an hour.
It is worth noting that just before the scandal broke, Stern was preparing to switch 65,000 home care workers into Freeman’s local from a Northern California local run by a leading SEIU dissident, Sal Rosselli.
The corruption in SEIU was first exposed by the Los Angeles Times, which critics within the union have called the “tip of the iceberg.” It is being investigated by the Labor Department and may lead to criminal charges.
The Labor Department is also expected to look into complaints by several union staff members of being pressured to sign a petition absolving Freeman of wrongdoing. Some who refused to sign the petition were transferred to positions far from their homes or had their union-provided cell phone service discontinued.
Stern Tries to Distance Himself from SEIU Scandals
Stern wants people to believe that a “world-class" ethics commission will solve the problem of corruption in his union. The fact is that the SEIU already has a code of ethical behavior that deals with the usual examples of wrongdoing by union leaders: conflict of interest, embezzlement, receiving gifts and favors from employers and other unacceptable practices. Union officers ought to know the difference between right and wrong.
To create some semblance of credibility for his planned ethics commission, Stern said he would consult with two labor reform groups: the Assn, for Union Democracy (AUD) and the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), but leaders of both organizations declined to be used as part of a Stern coverup of the mess within SEIU.
Any serious investigation of unethical practices within the SEIU must begin with Andy Stern, who unilaterally appointed his protégés to top positions in large locals where they could freely use union funds for their private purposes. His arbitrary use of trusteeships provided him with a tool against reform groups within the union. Critics note that he is threatening to put the strongest pro-reform local in the SEIU (United Healthcare Workers West) into trusteeship, enabling him to throw out their elected leaders and install his own appointees.
Stern has to explain why he chose Tyrone Freeman, who was working on an SEIU job in Georgia, and put him in charge of a large California local of home care workers, mostly low-paid women. Wasn’t he aware that Freeman was stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the union treasury? Why was Stern prepared to reward Freeman with 65,000 .additional home care workers just before the scandal exploded?
When we get the facts from Stern, we’ll be better able to evaluate whether he is the high-minded, ethically pure personality, he wishes us to believe he is.
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