7/9/08

Controversial unionist vows to fight ouster

Related story: "Controversial CWA official removed from office"

The ousted state worker union leader who also used to be Gov. Jon S. Corzine's girlfriend vowed Tuesday to fight to keep her post but also found herself adjusting to a new status - she wasn't allowed into a staff meeting at the union office. The Communications Workers of America Monday removed Carla Katz as president of its largest local. Katz dated Corzine from 2002 to 2004, has led CWA Local 1034 since 1999 and been a member for 26 years.

The union's national board voted unanimously to suspend Katz and the CWA Local 1034 governing board, alleging financial malpractice and suppression of dissent at the 16,000-member local.

"These allegations are a complete and total fiction," Katz said.

Katz dated the 61-year-old Corzine while he was a U.S. senator.

She gained attention during Corzine's 2005 gubernatorial run when it was revealed he paid her mortgage and gave her other gifts they refused to disclose. Corzine is now fighting to keep private e-mails exchanged with Katz during state worker contract talks in 2006 and 2007.

Katz, 49, said Tuesday she won't walk away without a fight.

"There is no financial impropriety, and this action was taken without any notice whatsoever," she said. "This is really one of the most undemocratic union actions I've ever seen."

She said she and governing board members tried to attend a meeting between CWA officials and staff, but were told they couldn't attend.

CWA spokesman Bob Master said Katz and the board weren't permitted because, "This was a staff meeting."

Ruth Barrett, a national union staff representative, has been appointed as the local's temporary administrator. A letter sent to Local 1034 members said she will immediately arrange for an audit of the local's records.

"The administrator will stay in place until we've restored fiscal integrity to the local and ensured all the laws and all the democratic processes are being monitored," Master said.

Corzine, as he often does, described Katz on Tuesday as "a friend," but said, "I haven't spoken with her or given her advice in a very long time."

He otherwise declined to comment on what he called "a private, inside-the-union matter."

Reaction to Katz's ouster was positive among some CWA 1034 members.

"It's a great day for members, for the workers and for the union," said Dan Antonellis, a state labor department worker who runs a Web site critical of Katz. "This is a chance to give the local union back to the members."

But Rae Roeder, president of CWA Local 1033, alleged the move was retaliation for Katz's opposition to the state worker contract and her recent national union vice presidency bid.

"I just think this is not what a union is about," Roeder said. "She was elected and her board was elected. The members chose her and the members should be the ones to remove her, if that's what they so choose."

Katz has claimed in a federal lawsuit against CWA officials that her opposition to the contract negotiated by the national spurred the national to investigate her. Katz opposed the deal because it called for increased pension and health contributions, which she said "degraded" benefits.

The CWA said its investigation stems from complaints by union members and showed Katz used union money for her vice presidency campaign and spent union money without oversight. The letter to workers, from Jeff Rechenbach, a CWA secretary treasurer, called the situation "regrettable."

"We are confident, however, that the national union has acted responsibly and appropriately and that our actions will result in the membership having a more responsive and democratic local," he wrote.

CWA represents thousands of state employees, including clerks, child welfare workers, epidemiologists, environmental scientists, psychiatrists and transportation engineers.

Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris, often disagreed with Katz on issues but said she "may be more likely the victim of internal union politics, rather than any wrongdoing."

"Unions play rough, and even someone as tough and talented as Ms. Katz can wind up being a casualty of union politics," Merkt said.

(allaroundphilly.com)

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