IMPACT: SEIU-UHW Settles Major Sexual Misconduct Case Following Payday’s Expose

SEIU Preisdent Mary Kay Henry (KPFA)

Payday Report has learned that SEIU-UHW has settled a major lawsuit in a case brought against SEIU Vice President Dave Regan, who also serves as the head of SEIU-UHW, brought by SEIU-UHW staffer Mindy Sturge in Oakland, California. 

The settlement came after months of extensive depositions and evidence filing that produced scores of witnesses on the record and that was likely expensive. The announcement of the settlement came less than a week before a trial was expected to start in the case. 

The terms of the settlement are confidential and were not released. However, since SEIU-UHW represented Dave Regan in this case, some labor law experts agree that the lawsuit was likely funded using union resources.

Sturge’s attorney Kyra Subbotin said that she hopes that the settlement encourages more union staffers and activists to speak up. 

“We hope that more people will step forward with their stories of what they’ve observed and experienced in this workplace,” Subbotin told Payday Report

The settlements came weeks after Payday Report released an expose detailing how SEIU had covered up sexual misconduct in its union. 

Payday Report expose was later highlighted in a series of high-profile TV ads on CNN paid for by the anti-union organization “the Center for Union Facts” not authorized by Payday Report.

The two year-long investigation by Payday Report revealed that top officers of the 1.9 million-member SEIU, including President Mary Kay Henry, have not only failed to take action against sexual predators in its union, but have actually promoted some men after they were accused of sexual misconduct. 

Exclusive interviews with dozens of unions staffers, as well as court documents obtained by Payday Report, showed that SEIU has not only failed to take action but has often retaliated against whistleblowers at its affiliates throughout the country.

Two of the former SEIU staffers who gave key testimony and evidence about sexual misconduct cover-ups in California as part of the case were initially identified to the defense team as a result of Payday Report exposes. 

One of the witnesses, Njoki Woods, was fired after making her statements and is currently being sued by SEIU-UHW as part of a defamation suit for an interview she gave to Payday Report. 

Many within the union’s ranks saw the lawsuit against the whistleblower as retaliatory.   Woods’ statements were later backed up in court by sworn affidavits by other staffers. Although, SEIU-UHW and its leadership dispute this charge.

The lawsuit against Woods is being financed by SEIU-UHW.

Sturge has left the union now and is seeking work elsewhere. Three of the men she and others accused of sexual misconduct will also continue to work at SEIU-UHW for now. 

SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan and SEIU-UHW Vice President Stan Lyle, both accused in the suit, are running for re-election this March. Chokri Bensaid, also accused in the lawsuit, has retained his positions as well. 

According to legal experts, the usage of union dues to sue sexual misconduct whistleblowers and settle sexual misconduct claims could give SEIU international grounds to take over its SEIU-UHW affiliate and remove its officials through federal trusteeship. 

Under the SEIU’s 2016 constitution, “Any Local Union or affiliated body willfully neglecting to enforce the provisions of this Constitution and Bylaws shall be subject to suspension or revocation of its charter or such other sanctions as may be determined by the International President.” 

“As a matter of law, trusteeships may only be established in accordance with the constitution and bylaws of the International for the purpose of “correcting corruption or financial malpractice, assuring the performance of collective bargaining agreements or other duties of a bargaining representative, restoring democratic procedures, or otherwise carrying out the legitimate objects of such labor organization,” says University of Wyoming Labor Law professor Mike Duff. 

“I believe that if the International believes sexual misconduct has occurred (notwithstanding the settlement) it has broad authority to place the Local into trusteeship”, says Duff. 

So far, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry has declined to do so. SEIU did not respond for immediate comment. 

Sturge’s attorney says she hopes that the case will inspire more women to step forward and speak out.

“The members of this union deserve to have leaders that respect them and respect union staff,” says Kyra Subbotin. “The staff and members should not have to fear retaliation for speaking the truth about their co-workers’ conduct.”

Donate to Payday to Help Us Continue to Hold SEIU Accountable for Sexual Misconduct.

(Update: The story has been updated to reflect the responses of SEIU-UHW. SEIU-UHW is technically considered a local affiliate to SEIU International. Although, funding, directives, and legal oversight comes from SEIU International)

About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is a yinzer labor reporter who covered the drug war in Brasil and spent years covering union organizing in the South for The Guardian. In 2016, he used his $70,000 NLRB settlement from being fired in the union drive at Politico to start the crowd-funded Payday Report. The son of United Electrical Workers (UE) Director of Organization Gene Elk, he lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Email: Melk@PaydayReport.com

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