DRAMA WITHIN AFL-CIO TOP RANKS: A receipt from a Miami strip club has opened a rift inside the AFL-CIO, Hamilton Nolan reports for Splinter News. Late last month, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka notified Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre that he was putting him on paid administrative leave while the labor federation investigated Gebre’s expensing a $117.70 bill from Playmates, a Miami strip club. Gebre answered Monday by asking the AFL-CIO executive council to intervene, stating that only the 55-member body, and not Trumka, had the authority to investigate and remove him. The Playmates receipt, Gebre said, was submitted “erroneously” and was withdrawn without reimbursement.
The confrontation threatens to stir tension because, Nolan notes, Gebre “is the only person of color in the AFL-CIO’s leadership.” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federal of Teachers, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, told Morning Shift that she reviewed the letter and asked Trumka to convene a meeting of the executive council “as soon as possible.” An AFL-CIO spokesperson told Morning Shift that it would not comment on internal matters.
Gebre then sent a letter to the 55 member AFL-CIO executive council asking them to intervene and suggested Trumka exceeded his authority.
Here’s the letter:
Members of the Executive Council, AFL-CIO
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
I am writing to advise you of an unfortunate and very serious situation that has arisen in the past week and to seek your immediate assistance and support.
Last week, on April 23, I received a letter from President Richard Trumka immediately placing me on administrative leave (with pay) and thereby denying me the right to continue to perform the constitutional duties I was elected to perform as Executive Vice President.
The basis for this action is a single receipt for $117.70 that was erroneously submitted to the AFL-CIO (not by me) and then withdrawn, without payment, once the error was discovered.
The AFL-CIO Constitution does not provide the President any legal authority to unilaterally remove me or any other officer from their elected position, even temporarily and with or without pay. It is the Executive Council that has the sole authority to undertake such an investigation under Section 8(b) of the AFL-CIO Constitution.
After I received the April 23 letter, I retained legal counsel (a union attorney), and we then repeatedly advised President Trumka and General Counsel Craig Becker that this action violated the AFL-CIO Constitution, and that the claim that the unpaid $117.70 receipt somehow constituted misconduct had no basis in fact. Copies of that correspondence are enclosed. Nevertheless, President Trumka decided to continue to prevent me from doing my job as Executive Vice President until the “investigation” is completed.
If President Trumka wants to continue to “investigate” the $117.70 receipt, he should refer the matter to you. But, regardless, unilaterally removing me from my elected office before completing any investigation is a violation of basic due process, as well as the AFL-CIO Constitution.
By this letter, I am requesting that you direct President Trumka to return me to office immediately and to refer any further “investigation” to the Executive Council. By copying President Trumka, I am repeating my request that I be reinstated to my elected office immediately.
Please let me know if you have any questions. Your assistance will be greatly appreciated.
Tefere A. Gebre
In addition to being reinstated, Gebre’s lawyers are asking for an apology.
Readers will recall Gebre’s primary night 2012 outburst over the election of Tom Daly for the AD-69 seat in front of the press. From that post:
The Register’s Andrew Galvin captured the mood from Julio Perez’s primary night party with this passage: A few miles away, at a union hall in Orange, Tefere Gebre was also drinking Corona, though his mood was far less sanguine. Speaking to two reporters, Gebre, executive director of the Orange County Federation of Labor, launched an expletive-heavy denunciation of Solorio, the termed-out legislator whom Daly and the other candidates were seeking to replace. “Jose Solorio is dead to me,” Gebre said, in one of his few lines that didn’t include an f-bomb.
Nevertheless, as Tuesday night turned into Wednesday, with most of the ballots counted, (Joe) Moreno stood in second place, several hundred votes ahead of Perez. That bald fact was projected on a big screen in the union hall where Gebre was fulminating against Solorio. Gebre was displeased with Solorio’s voting record on labor issues after labor backed Solorio’s successful initial Assembly campaign in 2006. “We have nothing to do with corporate whores,” Gebre said.
While the Register’s Galvin was more cautious about quoting Gabere due to the fact the Register is a “family” newspaper, the Voice of OC let it all hang out. From the story:
Tefere Gebre, executive director of the Orange County Labor Federation, said the election was a statement by labor that it is tired of being used as an “ATM” by candidates from both parties.
He described his support for Perez as a personal beef with termed out Assemblyman Jose Solorio. Despite heavy backing from labor, one of Solorio’s first moves was to join a business caucus, Gebre said.
“Are we going to recycle the same assholes over and over again?” Gebre asked. “If that’s the case, then what the [expletive] am I doing here?”
At the time, Union friends argued there’s no need to apologize for speaking truth to power. I’ve read other accounts of Gebre’s 2012 action that completely sugar coats the behavior. And he still is close to a number of labor leaders and pro-labor political organizations in OC, but for now Gebre’s suspension is a public and nasty fight with the nation’s most powerful Labor organization. The initial Julio Perez charges were also presumed to be nothing until they were very much something.
Let’s see how this all plays out.