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CNS--The president of a Los Angeles chapter of the Service Employees International Union has been barred from the union for misusing member funds, the union announced last Wednesday. SEIU Local 6434 President Tyrone Freeman was also ordered to pay restitution of more than $1.1 million. SEIU national President Andy Stern made the decision after reviewing a report from outside hearing officer and former California Supreme Court Justice Joseph Grodin, who found that Freeman had engaged in a pattern of financial malpractice and self-dealing in violation of the SEIU Constitution and local bylaws.
In September, SEIU filed seven union charges against Freeman involving improper payments to a company owned by Freeman's wife, improper expenses relating to his 2006 wedding, the misuse of nonprofit funds to benefit Freeman and his relatives, the improper expenditure of union funds on a private cigar club membership and violations of procedural and democratic safeguards. Freeman has denied any wrongdoing.
"Today's decision sends a clear message across our union," Stern said.
"We are all accountable. Our members do some of the toughest jobs anywhere, and we will not tolerate any actions violating their trust or putting their interests at risk. On a personal note, I agree with Justice Grodin that it is tragic and unconscionable that a young leader with such great potential would violate not only the constitution of the International Union, but the trust of his members."
Stern ordered Freeman to return all misappropriated funds and to permanently relinquish all positions he currently holds in Local 6434, including the presidency and his membership. The lifetime membership ban is the most severe penalty the union can impose. The union also vowed to continue to cooperate in ongoing federal and state investigations of the union local.
Freeman can appeal to the International Executive Board for a modification of the penalties if he is exonerated or other circumstances arise that would warrant a less severe penalty. SEIU assumed trusteeship over Local 6434 on Aug. 22 in response to news reports that Freeman improperly benefitted from transactions involving member funds. The union appointed John Ronches to serve as trustee with full oversight of all local affairs.
The union's members mostly work in health care, public services and property services. Still pending is a U.S. Labor Department request that a federal court overturn the election of all officers at the union local, alleging it made it too difficult for challengers to qualify for the ballot. The department contends that the March election of Freeman and his slate of officers violated labor laws, according to the Los Angeles Times, which also brought to light his alleged financial improprieties.
Freeman is the target of a separate criminal investigation into the local's spending practices. The election complaint notes that the local required candidates to collect more than 4,800 nomination signatures in three weeks from members who worked mainly as caregivers in private homes, according to The Times. Only Freeman and his allies qualified for the United Long-Term Care Workers ballot.
The complaint accuses the local of "failing to provide a reasonable opportunity for the nomination of candidates.'' It seeks a new election under the department's supervision.