Union reformists file federal complaint against SEIU Local 221

by on November 21, 2009 · 13 comments

in Civil Rights, Labor, Organizing, San Diego

SEIUMonty doorgood

Monty Kroopkin in front of SEIU Local 221 offices. photo by Patty Jones

Editor: We did a post a while ago about the slate of union reformers led by member Monty Kroopkin running against SEIU Local 221 leadership. The slate lost but resulted in a federal complaint being filed.

A federal complaint was filed Monday November 16th against the results of recent union elections conducted by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 221, in San Diego. The complaint charges massive voter disenfranchisement and illegal conduct by election officials and by incumbent candidates.

Filed by Reform221, a group advocating a broad range of union democracy reforms, the complaint seeks nullification of the elections and a new election under the supervision of the U.S. Secretary of Labor. Reform221 charges that hundreds of union members were denied the right to vote and were not sent mail ballots.

These were the first elections held to replace appointed officers selected by SEIU International President Andy Stern. Local 221 is a new union, formed in 2007 by merging parts of the former SEIU Locals 535 and 2028. The new union has over 7,000 members in San Diego and Imperial Counties, and has an annual budget of about $7 million. The elections were to fill all the officer and executive board positions for the union and were held from July 1 through July 21, 2009.

Formal charges were initially filed in July, within one week of the elections, through SEIU’s own election protest procedures. Reform221 filed its complaint with the Department of Labor this week, after more than three months passed without any resolution of the charges by SEIU. Despite the legal challenge of the election results, the union installed the disputed new officers on September 15, 2009.

The complete texts of the federal complaint and supporting documents are posted online at

Reform221 also maintains a website at http://reformseiulocal221.blogspot.com/ where more background on the elections and the complaint and information on the reform candidates is available.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Sparling November 21, 2009 at 11:18 am

The original concept of unions was like the original idea of government. The people elected representatives to watch over day to day events as the people went on with their lives. Unfortunately the people fell asleep and the elected leaders of government and unions took advantage of this. Politicians feathered their own nests as did union leadership. Like many a well intentioned plan, it has gone off course. We all know that it is only the people who can correct this, if only enough of them wake up.


ROBERT GRIFFIN November 21, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Open Letter to Attorney General Kroger

Why does the Department of Justice (Assistant Attorney General Donna Bennett) claim an Attorney/ Client relationship with SEIU Local 503 in disqualifying herself as a witness for Complainant. . . . October 15, 2009 Unfair Labor Practice FR-02-09?

How much Tax payer money goes to this relationship?

Does SEIU Local 503 provide the State any reimbursement for these tax payer provided services?

How much of the current tax increases established by the Legislature will go to the Department of Justice?

Please provide these answers to the Tax Payers of Oregon . . .
Thank you. . . . Robert Griffin


B. Ross Ashley November 21, 2009 at 3:15 pm

err … should that read November 16, instead of December?

Nonetheless, it’s a hell of a note when we have to get the bourgeois government to interfere in a dispute within the workers’ movement. I support Reform, but dangit I hate having to do this.


Patty Jones November 21, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Thanks B. Ross, it’s been fixed.


Monty Kroopkin November 21, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Hi Patty,
…but it still says “December 16″… ?


Frank Gormlie November 21, 2009 at 8:08 pm

fixed, sorry it took so long.


Monty Kroopkin November 21, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Hey B. Ross,

Very true that the government remains in the control (mostly) of Big Banks, Big Corporations, blah blah. But it is also true that a lot of the laws are the results of generations of social movements from below, and labor laws are a good example of it. Much of the labor laws are, in practice, ANTI-labor laws. But some, like the ones which guarantee a union member’s right to vote in a union election, and which protect against employers (or the mob) coming in and buying off union officers and candidates, are good ideas. We need to use all the tools at our disposal, even tools with rather dull edges. Is direct action (boycotts, strikes, sit-ins, etc.) more often better than resorting to use of the legal systems? Are these tactics mutually exclusive?

These are good things for all workers to discuss. I hope people will talk about it more. Glad you brought it up.


B. Ross Ashley November 21, 2009 at 5:21 pm

I agree it’s necessary, Monty, and I’m glad pressure from the labour movement has ensured protections like this, but I don’t have to LIKE the necessity.


Monty Kroopkin November 21, 2009 at 6:49 pm

B. Ross,
Well put.


Catherine Cox November 21, 2009 at 10:34 pm

Thank you to the O.B. Rag for covering this story. We, the workers, up here in the San Francisco Bay Area in SEIU Local 24/7 had the same experience of having SEIU disenfranchise us in a corrupt election. We fought as Local 221 is now doing and the Department of Labor eventually awarded us a new election! My hat is off to the people at 221 who are diligently pursuing a free and fair election. Thank you for your work in creating and maintaining union democracy without which unions would be worse than useless.


Arnie Schoenberg November 22, 2009 at 7:29 am

It sucks that there’s no one in SEIU above Andy Stearns who can step-in to mediate.


Monty Kroopkin November 22, 2009 at 9:45 am

Arnie, there actually is an internal union appeal step above the International President. So, if President Stern ruled against the appeal, then that ruling could be appealed to the International Executive Board. But, Stern did not bother to conduct a hearing within the amount of time the SEIU Constitution calls for, and he has not issued any ruling. And guess how all the folks got their seats on the International Executive Board? They were all hand picked by Stern to run on his slate and they all owe him for their positions. There is no such thing in SEIU as a seat on the IEB that owes its allegiance to the grassroots membership of a local union or even a region. No real democracy in the selection of this board. Pure patronage system.

The federal law that governs union member voting rights, etc., requires people to go through internal union election challenge procedures before filing any complaint with the Department of Labor. You can file with DOL after you get an unsatisfactory ruling inside your union, and/or if you get no final decision from your union after 3 months. We went past the 3 months mark at the end of October.

Andy Stern did surprise some people earlier this year when he responded to an election complaint at SEIU Local 888 in Massachusetts. There, the reform candidates actually won by a large margin, and the incumbent local president, a Stern crony, filed a bogus legal challenge. Stern actually started the appropriate investigation, and requested that both sides submit evidence. At that point, the defeated incumbent local president withdrew her challenge, because she had ZERO actual evidence. So, although we know Stern has been doing the wrong thing on many fronts, attacking sister unions like UNITE-HERE, and illegally imposing a politically motivated trusteeship (dictatorship) over SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West and destroying that union in the process, it is a mistake to assume that Stern will do the wrong thing 100% of the time.

In the case of the Local 221 elections of July 2009, however, he definitely has done the wrong thing, which is that he stonewalled on the appeal that is sitting on his desk.


Dan Mariscal November 22, 2009 at 8:32 pm

There is usually a mindset that there is either a union or management issue. What Monty has been doing is part of the evolution of the Labor Movement in America. That is the evolution of the third entity: the members themselves. It is a sorry state that the members themselves have to go against a union that collects their dues, but denies them true democracy. This, unfortunately, plays into the hands of employers; business and governments. Monty, and stewards like him, are the members best hope for regaining the control over the representation that is rightfully theirs. It is bad enough when an employer conspires against the best interests of their employees, but when paid union staff conspires against their members best interests, it becomes dastardly.
My hat goes off to Monty, and stewards like him, who unselfishly brave the gauntlet
on behalf of all of us who have to work, and pay dues, for a living. -Dan Mariscal [S.M.A.R.T.]


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