Tuesday, October 19, 1999

State of the Unions

Rodrigues accusers
appeal ‘defective’
union trial

Criticism of the UPW chief's
acquittal is sent to the
international leadership

By Ian Lind


Three critics of United Public Workers state director Gary Rodrigues have appealed the ruling of a union hearing officer who found Rodrigues not guilty of violating the rights of UPW members.

The two-page appeal, addressed to Gerald W. McEntee, international president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, called the ruling "a miscarriage of the union's judicial process" that would "undermine democracy throughout the union."

The appeal was filed by Keith Faufata and Angel Santiago-Cruz, both UPW chief stewards at different city facilities, and Keith Chudzik, a former chief steward at the Board of Water Supply. Chudzik was promoted earlier this year and is no longer a UPW member.

The three had charged Rodrigues with violating the union constitution by refusing to disclose union financial information relating to several questionable transactions, and then using the union's newsletter to attack members who continued raising questions.

The names of several hundred UPW members who signed a petition questioning Rodrigues' leadership were printed in the March 1999 issue of the newsletter, Malama Pono. An accompanying article accused them of dividing the union, jeopardizing a retroactive pay raise, and encouraging politicians "to pass legislation to steal our jobs or take away our benefits."

A hearing on the charges was held in July. The hearing officer, Bruno Dellana, director of AFSCME District Council 84 in Pittsburgh, concluded it was not a violation to print derogatory statements about union members even if those statements were untrue or in retaliation for signing the petition.

Rodrigues could not be reached for comment. He has refused to answer questions from the Star-Bulletin about these issues since last year.

The appeal is the latest move in the struggle between Rodrigues, who has headed the 12,000-member public employee union since 1981, and dissidents who have questioned his tight personal control of all aspects of union business.

The appeal challenges the hearing officer's findings on both procedural and substantive grounds.

"The trial procedure was defective and unfair," the appeal says. "The decision is fundamentally flawed in its findings, log and consequences for the membership."

According to the appeal:

Bullet The hearing officer did not require Rodrigues to testify under oath, which denied critics the right to cross-examine him, while all who testified in favor of the charges were required to testify under oath and were questioned by Rodrigues. "The trial decision should be thrown out for this error alone," the appeal states.

Bullet The three who filed charges didn't get the required 15-day notice before the hearing opened, and say they were not given information on hearing procedures, including methods for obtaining union records or compelling union officials to appear as witnesses. As a result, they say their ability to prove their case was "severely hampered."

Bullet The hearing officer ignored "the unequal power relationship" between Rodrigues and his critics.

"We are rank-and-file members. He is the union's top officer in charge of union records ... That type of conduct by the top union officer has a chilling effect on the members' exercise of their right of free speech and access to information from the union," the appeal charges.

The appeal, if accepted, will go to AFSCME's international executive board for a decision.

State of the Unions

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