Andy Stern makes an SEIU scapegoat over dues

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Workers' reputation is tarnished by greedy jumbo union bigs

A clash between the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 221 and some of its members about the quality of representation is being played out in the effort to oust an Escondido resident, Wally Gutierrez, from the union.

Gutierrez, a union shop steward who works as an electronic-security technician in the county complex in Vista, was put on trial for disloyalty and advocating secession from the union during a hearing at the SEIU Union Hall in San Diego on Wednesday.

More than 30 people, mostly county workers, rallied in front of the union hall to support Gutierrez, carrying signs that read “Truth Not Lies” and “Free Wally” during the closed trial that lasted more than two hours.

“I just pay my dues,” said Krikor Bedrossian, a county air-conditioning mechanic from Oceanside. “I’m trying to be a decent person. But once they start to harm our own people, it starts to get ugly. We like Wally and respect him for everything he’s done.”

According to trial documents, the issue is whether Gutierrez was attempting to subvert the union by trying to get the members of his Crafts bargaining unit to drop full membership in the union and become an agency shop in which workers pay reduced union dues, called agency fees, for less than full service from the union.

Gutierrez admits to petitioning for agency fees in order to force the SEIU Local 221 to pay more attention to workers.

David Wilson, a county plumber from Carlsbad who participated in Wednesday’s protest, said that the union has neglected its members in recent years and that striking back in the pocketbook was the most effective way of changing the situation.

“We need some representation,” Wilson said. “Over the last three years, we’ve had one union representative come to our office, and he was a new hire. He didn’t really have much information. I can’t tell you all the reasons Wally Gutierrez is being thrown out. I don’t think anyone can.

That’s why were here: to get answers.”

Gutierrez is charged with using false information to persuade union members to drop to agency fees as well as undermining the union’s solidarity at a critical time, less than a year before the county contract expires in June 2009.

According to the union’s Web site, a new contract with the county would affect about 75 percent of its almost 12,000 members.

The accusations were made in a letter to Local 221 secretary Omar Lopez written by executive board member Kathy Griffee and dated July 2. Lopez wouldn’t comment on the charges, saying Gutierrez’s trial was an internal matter and would be adjudicated fairly by the union.

Other union officials contacted for this story refused to comment on the matter, citing similar reasons.

“It’s an internal matter, and we’re handling it internally,” said Local 221 spokeswoman Melinda Battenberg.

Griffee’s letter lists four allegations against Gutierrez, all of them attributed to secondhand sources.

One of the sources, Joann Hofelich, a former executive board member now in the Crafts bargaining unit, denied the statements attributed to her and appeared at the trial as a witness in Gutierrez’s defense.

“Why didn’t she (Griffee) call me?” Hofelich said. “She didn’t want to call me to verify what I said. It was hearsay. We are not being listened to, and none of our issues are being heard. We have no recourse.

“Wally was one of the people who asked questions. I believe that’s why he’s being singled out.”

Workers demonstrating for Gutierrez at the Union Hall were not allowed inside to observe the proceedings.

“I’m being denied access to my Union Hall,” said Vickie Church of San Diego. “Just before Labor Day, no less.”

Gutierrez, who is responsible for the county’s electronic security equipment in North County, is awaiting a decision on or before Sept. 11.

He believes the trial will hurt him, regardless of outcome.

“They’ve tarnished my reputation,” Gutierrez said. “After this, if I get in trouble at work, do you think I’ll get representation from the union?”


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