1/8/08

Rogue UFCW boss eliminates officer elections

United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1036 in Camarillo (CA) has been taken over by its International Union amid an investigation into its leadership.

The local union, which has offices in Camarillo, Arroyo Grande and Bakersfield, represents more than 11,600 grocery workers, including about 3,000 in Ventura County.

In a letter sent to local union members Friday, UFCW International Union President Joseph T. Hansen explained that Local 1036 has not elected officers as required — which violates union bylaws, the International Union constitution and federal law. The UFCW International Union took Local 1036 into trusteeship Thursday.

The UFCW represented grocery workers during the 141-day strike and lockout in 2004, as well as negotiated healthcare and wage increases with three major supermarket chains in 2007.

Local unions were required to elect officers by Dec. 31, said Jill Cashen, spokeswoman for the International Union. When Local 1036 did not do so, the International Union took action, removing the executive officers in place, including President George Hartwell.

Members of local unions that are placed in trusteeship "see virtually no difference in day-to-day life," Cashen said. The International Union has taken control of the local union's finances and operations, but continues to operate Local 1036 as before while putting people and resources in place to correct the problems, she said.

Cashen said she has not seen a takeover situation such as this during her nine years with the International Union.

The two-page letter to members outlined the events leading up to last week's action.

In October, Local 1036's executive board approved a merger with UFCW Local 770, which represents Los Angeles County and has about 29,000 members. The merger would have created the largest local union in the UFCW, Hartwell said in a newsletter column.

If the merger had gone through, there would have been no need to elect officers for Local 1036. But members of Local 1036 voted to reject the merger at the end of October.

"The local union's Executive Board has indicated that the local union has no intention of conducting officer elections," the letter reads.

A Dec. 13 board resolution stated that "there has occurred an irremediable breakdown in the governance functions of Local 1036, which make it impossible for Local 1036 to effectively service its members" and made it impossible to conduct fair election, according to the letter.

In response, the International Union declared an emergency situation and put Local 1036 under the trusteeship of Sean Barclay, International vice president and director of UFCW Region 8, Western. The trusteeship is to restore democratic procedures to the local union, protect its funds and property, and assure that the local union carries out its duties for its members.

A phone message left for Barclay was not returned Monday.

The letter goes on to state that the International Union plans to hold a hearing to determine if the trusteeship is justified and should be continued.

Hartwell had been president of Local 1036 since 1992. He did not return a call Monday.

Hartwell and Rick Crane were nominees for the president's job in the overdue election. It was the only contested seat on the executive board.

Some Local 1036 members speculated on online blogs that the possibility of Crane winning caused the executive board to refuse to hold the election.

Crane, who opposed the merger with Local 770, was fired as Hartwell's executive assistant in July.

Crane said Monday that the local union is in pretty good shape, and he expects the election could be held within a few months. He suspects there will be new candidate nominations and he plans to put his name forward.

As for the trusteeship, Crane said it should make things better for the membership.

"They know they have somebody who is actually going to take care of their problem, as opposed to all the political stuff going on (in recent months)," he said.

(venturacountystar.com)

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