SEIU Prez Knew of Sexual Misconduct and Personally Promoted Staffer Anyhow

SEIU Preisdent Mary Kay Henry (KPFA)

A more than year-long investigation by Payday Report reveals 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 being accused of sexual misconduct. 

Exclusive interviews with dozens of unions staffers, as well as court documents obtained by Payday Report, show that SEIU has not only failed to take action but has often retaliated against whistleblowers. 

A review of the cases of six men, who are accused of sexual misconduct and still employed by the SEIU, paints a troubling picture of a  union that has been plagued by sexual misconduct scandals. 

In October of 2017, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry’s right-hand man, Scott Courtney, was forced to leave the union following a Buzzfeed story revealing that he had engaged in sexual misconduct. 

At the time, Henry appointed an external advisory board to look into sexual misconduct composed of Debra Katz, a top civil rights lawyer who represented Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during the Supreme Court nomination hearing over now-confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh, former White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz, and Fatima Goss Graves, president, and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center.

Hoping the new external advisory board would take action to shake up SEIU, a former SEIU staffer fired off a memo obtained by the Guardian to SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and SEIU Ombudsman Kimberly Sanchez in October of 2017 about the abusive behavior of Martin Manteca.

16 Testimonies Against a Top Staffer, Who SEIU Prez Henry Then Promoted

Manteca served as Organizing Director of the 95,000 member SEIU Local 721, the Southern California Public Service Workers Union. 

Over a several-year period, Manteca has been accused of inappropriate behavior and retaliation by multiple junior staffers who said they felt pressured into sexual relationships with Manteca then banished to an undesirable assignment if they rejected his sexual advances.

In the spring of 2016, a former SEIU staffer told SEIU international that she had reported to SEIU that Manteca sexually harassed her. The report was not the first time Manteca had been accused of sexual harassment. However, the staffer said she felt she was retaliated against and transferred to a more remote local. 

Outraged by the exile of a talented union organizer, more than 60 staffers of Manteca’s local gave their support to a petition in May of 2016, obtained by Payday Report, asking SEIU to investigate Manteca due to his alleged harassment.

The SEIU ethics office headed by Kimberly Sanchez investigated the matter. 

In depositions, obtained by the Payday Report, 16 SEIU staffers provided testimony against Manteca. The staffers painted a picture of a boss who not only sexually harassed women in the workplace but one who would become physically confrontational and harass those who tried to stand up to him in solidarity with his accusers. 

“He was an absolute sociopath,” said one staffer who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. “If he was on the floor of your office, you hid at your desk. You didn’t want to see him. He was such a terror.”

(Payday Report is releasing many of the affidavits that we have received, which you can find here. However, to protect the identity of some of the whistleblowers, we are not publicly releasing all of them. If you are a journalist, interested in confidentially viewing the affidavits, please contact me: [email protected]

After the first investigation by SEIU into Manteca in which no action was taken, another staffer, who was subordinate to Manteca, reported that he behaved in a way that he made sexual advances on her while she was drunk. After the incident, the staffer said that she no longer felt comfortable working there. She also said that she didn’t feel comfortable at first coming forward with the allegations against him due to the culture within the union. 

“I didn’t feel comfortable coming forward because of the contentious relationships between organizers, managers, and senior staff at that time,” the former SEIU staffer, who declined to give her name out of fear of retaliation, told Payday Report. 

In the spring of 2018, the staffer, after receiving encouragement from friends, finally felt comfortable about coming forward and giving testimony to former longtime SEIU General Counsel Judy Scott about Manteca’s alleged sexual misconduct. However, no action was taken against Manteca. 

In the meantime, approximately 40% of his staff has turned over in the last three years, according to records obtained by Payday Report. 

“No one wants to work there under Manteca–he’s toxic, absolutely toxic,” said one staffer, who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation from Manteca. 

However, despite numerous accusations of sexual misconduct and two investigations by SEIU, Manteca was allowed to continue in his post as deputy trustee of SEIU Nevada in addition to his duties as Organizing Director of the SEIU’s chapter of the SEIU Local 721, the Southern California Public Service Workers Union. 

While serving as deputy trustee of SEIU Nevada, Manteca was once again accused of harassment. In a lawsuit filed in March of 2019 and obtained by Payday Report, Manteca is accused of harassing a female staffer Debbie Miller for seeking a disability accommodation for her struggle with diabetes. 

Today, Manteca still serves in his position as the Director of Organizing of the Southern California Public Services Workers’ Union, where he makes $130,000-a-year. 

An Ugly Series of Local Union Takeovers Created a Culture of Sexual Misconduct

The failure by SEIU President Mary Kay Henry to take action against Manteca is part of a larger pattern of Henry failing to take action in spite of evidence of sexual misconduct against top deputies, including SEIU Vice President Dave Regan. 

SEIU #MeToo activists say that staffers like Manteca and Regan, who participate in hostile takeovers known as “trusteeships” of other SEIU locals, rarely face punishment. They are known within the union as part of the “wrecking crew,” a crew of bureaucratic union staffers that are intensely loyal to DC union leadership, often at the expense of local administration. 

Ironically, while SEIU has used federal trusteeship powers to take over dissident unions, it has failed to use trusteeship to punish those like Regan, who stands accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct. Indeed, SEIU has even permitted Regan to use his union, SEIU-UHW funds to defend the union leaderships against sexual misconduct allegations. 

In January of 2009, SEIU Vice President Dave Regan headed over the most controversial takeover in the union history: the trusteeship of the then 150,000 member SEIU-United Healthcare-Workers West. 

Regan fired dozens of staffers and deposed more than 200 elected shop stewards officials that he deemed disloyal from their positions using powers granted to him by SEIU’s trusteeship of the local. 

“The kind of people brought in were ugly people,” says Steve Early, author of The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor, a book in large part about the hostile takeover of the mega-local. “These people destroyed lives all to gain control of the union.” 

In 2011, the federal government even found that SEIU illegally colluded with Kaiser Permanente to target dissident union members after deposed union members of SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (SEIU-UHW) formed their own union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

“If there is a member who got in our way, they would tell us to get that member fired,” says former SEIU-UHW staffer Njoki Woods.

In 2011, in a 34-page ruling, federal NLRB Administrative Law Judge Lana H. Parke ruled that collusion between Kaiser and its largest union so ‘interfered with employees’ exercise of a free and reasoned choice’ that she ordered a new election in 2011 at Kaiser, which under-resourced dissident unionists in NUHW lost in a bitterly fought contest.

Activists associated with the group SEIU #MeToo say intense takeover battles create a fraternity-like mentality within the union–where staffers could be quickly fired at the slightest sign of disloyalty, making it difficult for many women to speak up.

“There’s a really strong culture of remaining loyal to the labor movement. If you speak to the press, you’re seen as a traitor to the movement, and you’re treated like a scab,” says one SEIU #MeToo activist who wishes to remain anonymous. “No one wants to just hand Fox News a bunch of easy talking points, especially when we’re in such a vulnerable political position.”

SEIU Vice President Dave Regan

One of the heads of SEIU’s “wrecking crew” was SEIU Vice President Dave Regan, who has been closely politically aligned with Mary Kay Henry over the years. Henry and Regan both were heavily involved in the takeover of SEIU-UHW.

With both Regan and Henry having been accused of being involved in the potentially illegal collusion against rival union members, many union democracy activists have wondered if Henry has refused to remove Regan as Vice President of SEIU because he could turn against her. 

“If someone knows where the bodies are buried, it’s most definitely Dave Regan, and Mary Kay Henry would certainly be scared of moving against him,” says one long-time SEIU staffer, who wished to remain anonymous out-of-fear of retaliation. 

Regan was intimately involved in the takeover of the 90,000 member United Healthcare Workers – West in 2009 when Regan personally sacked over 200 elected shop stewards from their leadership positions within the union.

Regan, who also serves on the international’s union executive board and as the current President of United Healthcare Workers West, now faces a sexual misconduct lawsuit brought by current SEIU-UHW staffer Mindy Sturge against SEIU-UHW. The lawsuit alleges that he engaged in sexual misconduct and tolerated a frat boy culture where sexual misconduct ran rampant.

Shortly after Sturge started at the union, Sturge began receiving sexually harassing phone calls from her supervisor Michael Kervosch late at night when he appeared drunk to her.

“He would often call me late at night after I was in bed with my husband. He sometimes sounded drunk, and he would make comments about my looks and how other staff would say I must have been hired for my looks. He would also talk about his personal life,” said Sturge in an affidavit obtained by Payday Report. 

“I put up with it because I was a relatively new employee, and the union was in a lot of turmoil. I feared for my job, which I loved,” Sturge said of the harassment. 

Sturge says early on in her employment that one of her coordinators Chung Park, also harassed her, telling her that “whoever gets you is a lucky man” and asked if she enjoyed rough sex and bondage. 

Sturge and others have alleged that such sexual harassment was prevalent under Regan’s leadership at SEIU. Regan and his former top lieutant, Marcus Hatcher, were known to party at union events, often drunkenly propositioning subordinates.

Interviews with scores of SEIU staffers, past and present, and sworn testimony obtained by Payday Report, accused Regan of making it clear that he would promote women from the rank-and-file of the union, who were willing to engage in sexual relationships with him.  A charge, which SEIU-UHW denied.

Veronica Lowery, a staffer at UHW, initially said in an affadivit that she once was at a conference when she overheard Regan and others talk about the physical appearance of a rank-and-file member walking by them. 

“‘The only way she is getting a job [with SEIU-UHW] is if she sucks my dick,'” Lowery recalls Regan said in an affidavit obtained by Payday Report. 

Lowery late recanted her previous statement for reasons that remain unclear. SEIU-UHW has sued another whistleblower Njoki Woods for defamation for speaking out against Dave Regan; leading many within the union to fear speaking out. As defamation offenses tend to be complex legal procedures, people in the union now might want to learn more about it before suing someone and might as well want to proceed with caution.

At a training in October of 2017, Regan is alleged to have shown up drunk to a meeting and asked women if he could smell their panties. 

“I was at a gathering of some of the other women contract specialists, and Mr. Regan went around asking the women if he could sniff their panties,” said contract specialist Carla Grossman in an affidavit obtained by Payday Report. “At one point, another woman’s cell phone rang, and it was that woman’s husband. Mr. Regan took the phone from her and said, ‘I’II smell your panties, too,’ or words to that effect into the cell phone.” 

A charge, which SEIU-UHW, denies.

Women like Mindy Sturge say that the sexual harassment from Regan was constant.  In one meeting, Sturge says that Regan asked her if “Does the carpet match the drapes?”  in reference to her pubic hair. 

In another meeting with others present, Sturge says that Regan asked her, “What would you do for some jewelry?”; an advance that she took as a sexual proposition. Sturge says it appeared that Regan was drunk.

 Scores of SEIU-UHW staffers interviewed by Payday Report say that Regan was frequently seen drunk in the office and at union events. Regan was known for getting drunk at union conferences or outings where there was dancing and “grinding” on a woman’s backside on the dance floor. At one union conference, he “grinded” on Sturge in a way that she felt was sexually inappropriate.  

“It was embarrassing,” said Sturge. 

SEIU-UHW denies the charges that Regan was frequently drunk in public.

However, even some outside of SEIU-UHW, have accused Regan of being frequently drunk. In August of 2018, California Assemblyman Richard Bloom accused Regan of shoving him across a room while drunk. A charge, which Regan denies.  

SEIU Vice President Dave Regan’s right-hand man Stan Lyles 

Staffers say that Regan created an alcohol-fueled party culture, where sexual misconduct thrived inside California’s largest health care workers’ union. Both of Regan’s two top lieutenants, SEIU-UHW Vice President Stan Lyles and SEIU-UHW Hospital Division Director Chokri Bensaid, stand accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women.

In 2008, when escorting Lyles with his baggage to his room, Starla Rollins, a former union organizer with SEIU-UHW, says that Lyles made sexual gestures towards her. 

“When I was in his room, he said, ‘I like big asses’ and told me (suggestively) to ‘come here – I want to show you something,'” said Rollins in an affidavit obtained by Payday Report. 

“After the incident during bargaining, Stan would text me, and he said he was coming to our hospital. He said he ‘had something for that big ass,’ and then he texted me two photos of his penis,” said Rollins. 

“I helped him carry his bags to his room, and then, when we got there, he cornered me in the room. He closed the hotel room door and stood in front of it and started taking off his belt. He said something like ‘I know you want it.’ I was so scared–I thought I wouldn’t get out alive,” said Rollins. 

Eventually, she was able to negotiate her way out of the room. SEIU-UHW denies the incident occurred.

Later, when Rollins was laid off from her job in 2014, where she had been employed for 27 years, in violation of the union contract, she sought representation to get her job back. However, she believes that she was denied it for turning down Lyles’ sexual advances. 

As part of 2014 hearing into whether she received proper representation, Rollins’ friend Regina Johnson later testified under oath in 2014 as part of an employment proceeding against SEIU-UHW that Rollins showed her the texts of Lyles’ penis. 

Lyles was represented at the hearing by SEIU-UHW’s General Counsel Bruce Harland. SEIU-UHW denied the allegations in an email sent to Payday after the publication.

Other SEIU-UHW members have also accused Lyles of sexual misconduct. Allegations, which Lyles denies.

On one occasion, Michelle Collins, a veteran SEIU-UHW member with 20 years in the union, said that Lyles assaulted her in an elevator at a union’s office. 

“In the office at UHW’s Commerce office, he stuck his hand under my shirt and groped my breast. I hit him and thereafter refused to have anything to do with him or support him for election to Vice President,” said Collins in an affidavit obtained by Payday Report.  

Mindy Sturge, said in a sworn affidavit, that Lyles also made several advances towards her.  

Sturge said that Lyles “would remind me about he signed the paychecks, how he’d like to create a position for me as his assistant, he said it would mean to travel with him, and how “if he was 20 years younger…” implying he’d like to have a relationship that was not business.” 

Lyles began asking Sturge to drive her to visit SEIU-UHW represented facilities in Northern California. 

“During one of those drives, he began complimenting my body and then grabbed my upper thigh (while I was driving),” said Sturge. After the incident, Sturge refused to have anything to do with Lyles. 

SEIU-UHW denies the charges.

Dave Regan’s protege SEIU-UHW Hospital Division Director Chokri Bensaid

Chokri Bensaid is the head of SEIU-UHW Hospital Division and was known as a regular drinking buddy of Regan, and is alleged to have shared his tendency to sexually harass women working under him.

After recovering from her divorce, Sturge said that she finally gave in to the advances of SEIU-UHW Hospital Division Chokri Bensaid and had a brief personal relationship. At the time, Bensaid, who had gotten in trouble elsewhere for sexual misconduct, was advised by SEIU not to have any personal relationships of any type with his subordinates.

Quickly, Sturge broke things off with Bensaid, but for months Bensaid continued to pursue her despite her many attempts to turn him away.

Sturge says in an affidavit she was accosted by Bensaid at a union meeting, where she claims Bensaid in front of others yelled out, “I can’t stand it anymore. Mindy Fucking Struge,” then Bensaid leaned over the table she was sitting at and kissed her in front of others.

On another occasion, long-time SEIU organizer Greg Price says that he heard Bensaid yell at a subordinate after she refused his sexual advances after a night of drinking at a union event. 

“He said to her, “What are you doing up this late if you aren’t in my room.” She turned him down. He then called her a bitch and told her to fuck off,” said Price in an affidavit obtained by Payday Report. 

On another occasion, Marcus Hatcher, who left SEIU-UHW after being accused of sexual assault, said an affidavit that he and Bensaid texted about what sexual acts that they would like to perform with SEIU-UHW Executive Board member Georgette Bradford. 

Hatcher said that he texted Bensaid that “I think I might want to fuck Georgette first.” Then, Bensaid replied that “Just like to spin her on my dick lol.”

SEIU International HQ Recommended that Sexual PredatorBe Rehired

With so many men at the top of SEIU-UHW creating a workplace of sexual misconduct, some men, who had gotten in trouble at other SEIU locals, found ease in getting employment with SEIU-UHW. Evidence gathered by Payday Report shows that SEIU international assisted in helping one such sexual predator, Pedro Malave, to obtain employment at SEIU-UHW. 

In 2014, Daria Alladio, a former SEIU 32BJ staffer in Boston, was sexually assaulted by former SEIU staffer Pedro Malave, who later admitted to the assault in penis to my cheek. He was full-on masturbating against my cheek,” says Alladio. 

After an investigation, Malave later left the local. However, Alladio says she was never able to get an answer from SEIU 32BJ about whether Malave was fired or allowed to leave on his own accord.

For more than a year, Alladio tried to have a permanent note placed in Malave’s file so that he could not be rehired by another SEIU local. However, Alladio says that 32BJ SEIU Chief of Staff Laura Caruso instructed Alladio not to speak to her fellow coworkers about the investigation.

After SEIU investigated Malave and determined that he committed the assault, Malave was rehired at an SEIU affiliate in California despite the protests of Alladio; only to be fired after Alladio went public with her story to Payday Report in November of 2017.

As part of a lawsuit suit against SEIU-UHW, emails were obtained by Payday Report, that showed that Malave was hired at the SEIU-UHW on the recommendation of Pam Kieffer, a staffer from the SEIU international union. 

Alladio wrote to SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and her staffers in the wake of the #MeToo scandals that shook the union to discuss her situation but never received a response.

“I think it’s just clear that Mary Kay Henry and the [SEIU] international does not take the issue seriously,” says Alladio.

Retaliation Against Sexual Misconduct Whistleblowers in SEIU’s Ranks

Not only do staffers say they have felt ignored by the union’s leadership on issues of sexual misconduct, but many say they have faced retaliation for coming forward with allegations.

After Mindy Sturge filed her lawsuit in the summer of 2017, she says that she began receiving threatening phone calls and text messages. In a letter obtained by Payday Report sent in November of 2018 to SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and SEIU Vice President Leslie Frane, Sturge invited the international union to come to California to widespread sexual misconduct and retaliation in SEIU-UHW. 

On another occasion,  Sturge confronted Regan about the culture of sexual harassment at SEIU-UHW. A March 5, 2018 email obtained by Payday Report, sent by Sturge’s co-worker Mike Chavez expressing his concerns about this Regan’s yelling, confirms this story.

 “The union’s mission is to provide a fair and dignified workplace for its members, a majority of whom are women. This should be the case for staff, too,” Sturge wrote to Mary Kay Henry. “But staff members are afraid to speak out, and prior complaints about some of the men who created this hostile environment have gone nowhere.”

In a letter, obtained by Payday Report, sent back to Sturge from SEIU General Counsel Nicole Brener in November of 2018, the national union declined to meet with Sturge, saying that the matter was best left to be investigated by the SEIU-UHW, the very union’s whose President she was suing for sexual misconduct.

“Because each local of SEIU employs its own staff and sets its own personnel policies and protocols, the International Union does not have a direct role in investigating allegations or concerns that may arise in local unions regarding personnel matters,” wrote Berner. “Those matters are subject to the processes established by the locals themselves.”

Over the period of a year, Payday Report attempted to get SEIU to comment on how SEIU was responding to allegations. SEIU declined on several occasions to comment for this story. 

On one occasion while catching a connecting flight, I happened to run into SEIU President Mary Kay Henry in the Detroit airport. Henry refused to answer my questions at the time but promised to follow up with me later. Henry never followed through on her promise to talk about sexual misconduct and retaliation in her union.  

Sturge isn’t the only SEIU-UHW staffer, who says that she has faced retaliation for reporting sexual misconduct.

In December of 2017, former SEIU-UHW staffer Njoki Woods, Mindy Sturge, and other union staffers who wish to remain anonymous say that Regan warned staffers at an executive board meeting against speaking out against sexual misconduct after one of Regan’s top staffers, Marcus Hatcher, was fired as a result of sexual misconduct allegations.

“Dave Regan was standing on the stage, and they put all these numbers to these attorneys, and he said ‘if you have an issue of sexual harassment then you can contact these attorneys, but you better damn well know that if you bring up allegations against us, you are coming up against a million-dollar organization and we will come after you,'” says Woods.

SEIU-UHW denies the claim.

In March of 2019, Woods went on record in an interview with Payday Report about the culture of sexual misconduct under Regan. The next week, she was promptly fired from the union.

Now, Regan and SEIU affiliate UHW are suing Woods for defamation. “It’s retaliation,” says Woods. “They want other people to be afraid of speaking up. They have a lot of secrets that they don’t want people to know about.”

SEIU-UHW denied all the charges leveled against it in this article. In an email sent to Payday, more than a month after publication, SEIU-UHW General Counsel Bruce Harland denied many of the charges in the story; calling them false.

However, SEIU International, which has the legal authority to oversee the case, has refused to comment on the case.

Harvard Honors an SEIU Sexual Predator As He Gets Promoted to SEIU 1199 VP

In the winter of 2018, the Boston Globe ran a series of exposes detailing sexual misconduct committed by the head of the 20,000 member Massachusetts local, Tyrek Lee. Lee’s accusers found themselves the subject of online social media harassment, inferring that they had merely been jealous ex-girlfriends and were now trying to take down an influential African-American union leader.

Shortly after the Boston Globe published an article outlining allegations against Lee, SEIU 1199 Massachusetts staffer Teia Searcy posted on Facebook, “the whole #MeToo shit GOT the WHORES coming out.”

The post describing #MeToo activists as”whores” was liked on Facebook by Senior Vice President for SEIU 1199 United Healthcare Workers East Veronica Turner. No disciplinary action was ever taken against either staffer.

Following an investigation prompted by the Boston Globe’s, Lee was temporarily demoted. He was ultimately allowed to transfer to the prestigious Harvard Trade Union Program. Despite the sexual misconduct allegations against him, he was given the honor of being the valedictorian speaker at the graduation ceremony of the program.

Now, a little more than a year after Lee’s accusers were publicly smeared, Lee was tapped by SEIU 1999 President George Gresham to serve as Vice President of the 400,000 members strong affiliate SEIU 1199.

“Based on Lee’s growth and contributions, he was selected to run as a candidate for vice president at-large, and his union sisters and brothers elected him into this new role,” SEIU1999 president George Gresham told the Boston Globe recently. “1199SEIU believes in a pathway for growth and redemption for all.”

However, for women like Dario Alladio, who were forced out of SEIU because of the sexual misconduct of SEIU staffers like Lee, the promotion of Lee sends a very different message to women like her. 

“It’s disheartening to know that you are working for an organization that you thought fought for people’s rights and social justice and getting rid of gender and racial inequality and kinda realizing that as an organization they are not fighting for values that you thought they believed in or were working towards,” says Daria Alladio.

Payday Report will continue to investigate sexual assault and misconduct within the labor movement. Anyone who wishes to speak out, either on-the-record or confidentially, may contact us at [email protected] or (412) 613-8423 (same # for confidential Signal App).

Donate to Payday to Help Us Continue to Cover Sexual Misconduct in the Labor Movement

(Update: The story has been updated to reflect the responses of SEIU-UHW. Clarification: SEIU-UHW is technically considered a local affiliate to SEIU International. Although, funding, directives, and extensive legal oversight comes from SEIU International. Local union affiliates are regularly referred to by both union organizers and labor reporters by the names of the national organizations to which to they belong)

About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing nearly 2,000 stories from 46 states, Elk traveled with Lula from Sáo Bernando do Campos all the way to the Oval Office in the White House. Credited by the Washington Post for being the first reporter to track the strike wave systematically, Elk started Payday Report using his NLRB settlement from being illegally fired for union organizing in 2015. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and works frequently in Rio de Janeiro, where he attended college at PUC-Rio. He speaks both Portuguese and Pittsburghese fluently. His email is [email protected]

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