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California union moves to strip Local 1000 president of powers. He calls vote illegitimate

·4 min read

A group of SEIU Local 1000 board members voted Sunday to strip the union’s elected president, Richard Louis Brown, of most of his leadership powers, introducing a major structural change at California’s largest state employee union and setting up what could be a messy fight over its control.

Thirty-four of the union’s 65 board members attended a meeting Saturday and Sunday at the California Democratic Party Headquarters in Sacramento, with some appearing virtually.

They voted on a series of policy proposals on Sunday that, if upheld, would permanently remove the leadership powers of the president, transferring them to a board-selected chairperson. The changes would reduce the president’s role to that of any other board member, according to meeting organizers.

The vote represents another milestone in a tense power struggle between the board and Brown, who took office June 30 after campaigning on unconventional promises to remove the union from politics, restructure union elections and deliver unprecedented pay and benefit increases to members.

Brown on Sunday called the weekend’s meeting illegitimate. He has threatened to suspend the board members involved and to initiate disciplinary proceedings against them.

If the weekend’s result holds, it would be a major change for the union representing nearly 100,000 state employees ranging from office workers to prison nurses. Most labor unions hold elections in which members select a president with a chief executive’s powers.

The board on Sunday selected William Hall, a district labor council president at the union who spearheaded the effort to hold the meeting, as its new chairman. The group voted 18-12 to select Hall over Irene Green, the union’s elected vice president of bargaining.

Hall, a Caltrans audio-visual specialist, said Brown has ignored the board’s direction, damaged the union’s reputation and harmed its relationships with other labor organizations and the Governor’s Office, requiring the board to take drastic, immediate action.

Hall said two recent harassment and wrongful termination lawsuits filed against Brown by former union employees added to the urgency.

“The driving focus on this was to really protect our membership, to protect the state workforce and to be a good partner in the labor organization,” Hall said Sunday.

Brown has cast the board’s complaints as efforts to preserve a status quo that he says he was elected to overturn.

On Sunday evening, in a text response to an interview request, Brown called the meeting “illegal, improper and out of order.”

In the text, he called out Theresa Taylor, a district labor council president and elected member of the CalPERS Board of Administration who also helped organize the weekend’s meeting. In August, Taylor sent a text to a union employee saying Brown could “suck a d---.”

Brown, who is Black, said in his Sunday text that the board’s vote has “no legal standing in court but clearly supports CalPERS Vice President Theresa Taylor’s ‘white privilege’ and her racist, sexist and homophobic statements.”

He called the meeting a “lynching with a carefully crafted castration to silence and destroy an outspoken educated Black man who has exposed the humongous hypocrisy of Local 1000 … this out of order meeting offers the real truth about some white people’s liberal lies of promoting Black Lives Matter while secretly despising strong Black men in power and authority who sincerely challenge the status quo!”

Brown succeeded Yvonne Walker, who is Black, as Local 1000 president. Walker led the union as president for 13 years.

President threatens to suspend union board members

It’s unclear what happens next at the organization, which took in $48 million in revenue last year including dues from about 56,000 members.

Brown has an office at the union’s 14th Street headquarters. He fired and replaced many of the union’s employees after taking office June 30. He has had authority over day-to-day spending decisions.

Here’s our best subscription deal, California state workers.

He threatened Friday to suspend the board members involved, saying only he has the authority to call a meeting under the union’s policies. The organizers of the weekend meeting have maintained that since Brown refused to call a meeting at their repeated request, they had authority to hold the meeting.

The group hired a parliamentarian to run the weekend’s meeting and court reporters to document it, Hall said.

Standoff begins at SEIU Local 1000

As a practical matter, it’s unclear how Hall or the board will take over those functions or the union offices.

Among the uncertainties moving forward is where the union’s attorneys will fall on the legitimacy of the weekend’s vote, and whose legal bills the union will pay if the dispute ends up in court. Also in question is whether the union will pay for Brown’s defense in the wrongful termination lawsuits.

In the weekend’s meeting, the board voted to create a litigation committee that would consult with attorneys and manage the union’s response to legal actions.

Under the union’s policies, some powers are transferred to the union’s leader — historically, the president — between meetings. The board on Sunday created a standing committee of the board to technically keep the board in session, an apparent effort to preserve the group’s authority.

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