9/12/07

Oregon's SEIU - just another corrupt gov't union

The largest union for state employees in Oregon is embroiled in a messy political and legal struggle over a claim from its elected president for nearly $110,000 in back overtime pay. Outraged members of Local 503 of the Services Employees International Union, including several board members, launched a recall campaign against the president, Joe DiNicola.

In turn, DiNicola is seeking a court order charging that union and government resources are being used to aid the recall, which SEIU denies. He also has filed a civil rights complaint charging he has been discriminated against for making his wage claim. Meanwhile, the case has forced both SEIU and the state of Oregon to burn up thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Several union members involved in the recall say they are mystified why DiNicola is so determined to seek thousands of dollars in overtime pay when the president's job has traditionally been seen as a management position exempt from overtime -- and when his pay is already well above that of rank-and-file SEIU members. But they say they are determined to protect the union's reputation by taking action against DiNicola.

"I know there are people who are going to say, 'Oh, this is just another corrupt union,' " said Barbara Casey, an SEIU board member backing the recall. But, she added, "we are correcting this internally. . . . We want to hold our leaders accountable just like the public wants public employees held accountable."

DiNicola would not comment. His attorney, Kevin Lafky, said DiNicola repeatedly tried to file time sheets showing he was working extra hours soon after he was elected president in 2004 but was discouraged from doing so. Lafky said that under the agreement between the state and the union, DiNicola should be entitled to the same compensation -- including overtime -- that he received in his regular job as a corporate tax auditor for the state Department of Revenue.

Under the agreement, DiNicola continues to collect his public employee salary from the state, which is then reimbursed by the union.

SEIU also paid DiNicola a $400 monthly stipend, a monthly car allowance of $245 and a flexible medical benefit of $140. All told, DiNicola received $83,562 in compensation from the union in 2006, according to a report by Bredhoff & Kaiser, a Washington, D.C., law firm hired by the union to investigate DiNicola's wage claim.

Though DiNicola had on several occasions asked the SEIU staff about his eligibility for compensatory time off when he worked weekends and evenings, he did not ask for overtime until late February or March of this year, the Bredhoff report said.

At that time, he submitted a request for 96 hours of overtime for February, which was turned down by the board. Bredhoff concluded it would violate SEIU bylaws to pay overtime to DiNicola.

DiNicola responded by filing a wage claim with the Department of Revenue for 2,596 hours of overtime accumulated since he became president in 2004. In May, he filed a lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court asking that he be paid time-and-a-half for those hours, for a total of $109,603. He asked for an equal amount in damages.

The state then filed its own lawsuit, saying the union should be responsible for any wage claims won by DiNicola. Peter Shepherd, the deputy attorney general, expressed confidence that taxpayers won't be stuck with any back overtime charges. But he said they probably would be on the hook for the state's legal fees.

Members of the Local 503 board instituted new rules ordering DiNicola not to work more than 40 hours a week because they did not want to expose themselves to further wage claims, Casey said. Since then, she and other recall supporters said, DiNicola has left board meetings early at least twice, announcing he had used up his 40 hours for the week.

"It's a slap in the face to those of us who have put in countless hours of volunteer time" on union activities, said Star Holmberg, another board member backing the recall.

In July, DiNicola filed a civil rights claim with the Bureau of Labor and Industries, saying he faced employment discrimination, including attempts to remove him from office.

An Oct. 4 court hearing is set on DiNicola's request for a temporary restraining order to prevent any state or union resources from being used in the recall. Backers of the recall said they want to gather about 6,000 signatures, which will allow them to force an election. They are particularly angry that DiNicola waited until after he was re-elected to a second and final term to make his wage claim.

"It's devious," Casey said. "This is a corporate tax auditor who waited until his 30th month in office to say, 'Hey, I'm $110,000 in arrears.'"

(oregonlive.com)

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