SEIU Subpoenas Google to Identify Whistleblower as Sexual Misconduct Lawsuit Heats Up

SEIU Vice President Dave Regan is being accused of sexual misconduct and retaliating against whistle blowers

The blog “Stern Burger with Fries” has been a thorn in the side of SEIU’s top leadership for nearly a decade now; publishing tales of internal scandals within the union which would often create a breadcrumb trail for investigative journalists to follow.

The blog was started during SEIU’s trusteeship and removal of over 200  SEIU-UHW shop stewards in the late 2000s. At the time, union democracy activists said that SEIU removed the shop stewards because they resisted concessionary agreements with hospital chains pushed by SEIU’s top leaders, while SEIU leaders accused the deposed stewards of corruption and financial mismanagement.

In its attempt to fight off the rival upstart union the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), started by dissidents purged out of SEIU-UHW, SEIU was later found guilty in 2011 by the National Labor Relations Board of illegally colluding with Kaiser Permanente.

Throughout the various fights between the dissident union democracy activists and SEIU leadership, “Stern Burger with Fries” would publish rumors, gossip, and analysis of internal scandals within the union.

Sometimes, the rumors would turn out to be false (a warning the blog gives its readers), but often the rumors proved true; allowing investigative reporters to follow the provided clues

The blog’s ability to find out about so many scandals within SEIU has led many to believe that the blogger must be a staffer within SEIU-UHW.

Now, Payday Report has obtained court documents that show  SEIU has subpoenaed Google in an attempt to find out the identity of the anonymous blogger behind “Stern Burgers with Fries”.

The legal move comes as part of discovery as SEIU seeks to defend itself in one of the most high-profile sexual misconduct lawsuits in the history of the labor movement. SEIU claims that “Stern Burgers with Fries” has made defamatory statements about the lead defendant Mindy Sturge, including a statement that Sturge has been fired by SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan; a statement that the blog later retracted.

Sturge’s legal counsel has declined to support SEIU’s motion to find out the defendant’s name, raising questions as to the true motives in SEIU wanting to obtain the identity of the blogger.

The anonymous blogger has retained the counsel of Micah Clatterbaugh of the firm of Siegel, Yee, and Brunner to object to the motion.

In court documents obtained by Payday Report, Clatterbaugh objected to the motion writing that SEIU “is not entitled to the information sought because (1) privacy interests outweigh any marginal relevance to the underlying litigation (2) SEIU cannot show no less intrusive means available. (3) SEIU cannot meet its burden to show a compelling need for the information sought, and (4) the website, where the blog entries appear is a news outlet, whose sources and information are protected by the California Constitution, Article 1, Section 2.”

SEIU though has objected to the motion citing among another legal precedent a legal precedent set by Bush Attorney General John Ashcroft in the case Ashcroft vs. Free Speech Coalition involving cases of potential defamation to demand the identity of the blogger.

SEIU further argues that “Stern Burger with Fries” should not enjoy legal protections typically granted to media outlets.

“With respect to Stern Burger’s argument based on the reporter’s shield law or any journalists’ privilege, those protections are completely inapplicable, as the subpoena is neither directed to Stern Burger, nor does it seek any of Stern Burgers’ confidential news sources,” wrote SEIU in a legal documents obtained by Payday Report. “The shield law merely protects reporters from being held in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena; it does not create a privilege from discovery.”

The legal decision in the motion being brought by SEIU could set a troubling legal precedent that could open reporters up to future attacks in the age of Trump.

The move comes as SEIU has taken some steps to clamp down on whistleblowers on sexual misconduct in its ranks. Last week, the union fired whistleblower Njoke Woods: citing in her termination letter an interview she gave with Payday Report on the culture of retaliation and sexual misconduct as a violation of the union’s media policy barring staffers from talking to the press.

SEIU did not respond to Payday Report’s request for comment.

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Mike Elk is the founder of Payday Report and also covers labor and immigration for The Guardian. In 2015, he was illegally fired for union organizing as Politico’s senior labor reporter and used his $70,000 NLRB settlement to start Payday. The son of United Electrical Workers (UE) Director of Organization Gene Elk, he lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and has dinner with his folks regularly. He can be reached at Melk@PaydayReport.com A Sidney Award winner and proud graduate of Woodland Hills, Elk lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh.