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April 19, 2014

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Internal conflict roils union

A group of union leaders is suing Unite Here and dozens of individuals to break up the nearly 5-year-old merger of the two union organizations.

Unite Here is the parent company of the state’s largest union, Culinary Local 226. The day before the union’s executive board, made up of vice presidents, voted 39-24 against ending the merger.

The Culinary Union represents about 50,000 workers in Nevada, primarily employees in casinos and laundries in Las Vegas.

“By every measure, the 2004 merger of Unite and Here has been an abject failure and, unfortunately, it is time for our unions to divorce,” said Unite Here General President Bruce Raynor in a statement before the failed vote to dissolve the merger.

The 15 vice presidents who filed the lawsuit named John Wilhelm, who helped the Culinary Union become the powerhouse it is today by creating the model for Las Vegas Culinary contracts, and D. Taylor, the leader and secretary-treasurer of the local Culinary, as defendants. Taylor also is the chief negotiator of the Culinary’s contracts, and continually pushes to organize more workers on and off the Strip.

Culinary’s parent was the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union before the 2004 merger.

There is also another lawsuit pending claiming that there is a faction of Here leadership trying to take over the merged entity.

In both lawsuits, the Unite faction claims that Unite had more money, and although Here had the potential to increase its membership, it has squandered the money.

In a statement after the vote, Wilhelm said, “I am proud that today a large majority of our general executive board voted to remain unified. We will not permit Bruce Raynor to split the union by creating chaos and internal destruction. We will not allow for undemocratic attempts to take over or split our union. Instead, we will restore a democratic union, a union that fights for strong standards for our current members and a union that fights to organize workers across North America.”

In his letter before the vote, Raynor said that “this should be a time of incredible hope and concerted action from the labor movement, as we have the most pro-worker administration we have had in generations. And as workers continue to get beat down by this economic crisis, they need a strong labor movement more than ever. I would like nothing more than to be working with our members and elected leaders on the change we campaigned so hard for last fall, and that moved all of us when Obama took office last month. But before we can get the House and Senate moving in the right direction, we need to get our own house in order.”

Raynor accused Wilhelm of “spending recklessly and squandering resources.”

He also said that the Here segment of the union failed to significantly increase union membership, despite $61 million in union funds being supplied to the effort. And workers’ grievances have gone unresolved, he said.

• • •

Union conglomerates are trying to shed light on private equity firms as a way to potentially prevent another financial crisis.

During a Feb. 3 teleconference based in Geneva international union leaders, including Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern, spoke about their concerns over the lack of regulatory control.

Among their concerns are the workers employed at companies bought out by these firms and the firms interest in banks.

In Las Vegas, the service union represents 10,600 workers, primarily hospital workers and government employees, according to In Business’ 2009 Book of Business Lists.

The unions, he said, are calling on governments, including the U.S., to tighten their regulations and have greater oversight by requiring the firms to disclose debt.

Stern said he is “very concerned” with private equity’s entrance into banks.

The ongoing discussion of setting up a “good” bank and a “bad” bank troubles Stern because there is an assumption that all the bad assets to be assumed by the “bad” bank are known. But private equity firms aren’t required to disclose their assets, he said.

“It turns out buyout firms are part of the problem, not part of the solution,” Stern said.

Jack Dromney, Unite’s deputy general secretary, said with the world economy in crisis, million of workers are losing jobs — and part of the blame is private companies that buyout companies and layoff workers, en masse.

“The next bubble to burst is private equity firms,” he said. “The masters of the universe are now circling the wagons. The days of private equity inhabiting a twilight world, where nothing is known, is over.”

In Britain, he said, there is also a lack of transparency regarding private equity firms. They are the “heart of the problem,” he said.

“We have a looming disaster in our economy,” he said. “Public clamor is growing.”

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