Union Battle Turns Into 'Hostage Recovery' Operation

By Matt Pyeatt | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

(CNSNew.com) - A local chapter of the Teamsters Union now claims to be conducting a "hostage recovery program" as it tries to supplant a National Education Association affiliate as the bargainer for public school cooks, janitors and bus drivers in Nevada's Clark County.

The long-running battle pits the Teamsters against the Education Support Employees Association (ESEA). The Teamsters accuse ESEA of poor management, for allowing the union's health trust fund to go "belly up" last November.

Teamsters' representatives plan to meet with ESEA workers, whom they refer to as "hostages," Saturday to instruct them how to resign from their current union. The ESEA currently represents about 7,500 school support employees in Clark County.

The Teamsters are also trying to persuade state officials to order an election in which workers would have the chance to choose which union they want.

The Teamsters had until the end of last November to collect enough signatures to show the Employee Management Relations Board (EMRB) that a majority of ESEA members wanted to switch unions. But Joe Furtado, executive director of the ESEA, said the Teamsters failed to achieve that goal.

"They did not submit those cards during the window period. In fact, they continued to solicit signatures right up until Christmas and they are still attempting to solicit signatures," Furtado said.

Kathy Naumann, business agent for the Teamsters Local 14, said her union did collect 3,900 signatures, "which were enough to satisfy a majority figure." But according to Naumann, "we haven't been able to show our cards to anybody to show that we have a majority."

Furtado said his union would try to stop an election from taking place.

"We are going to respond with a motion to dismiss because our law is very clear. It states that you must provide a 'verified membership list' when one is demanding recognition. The Teamsters have never done that. In their petition to the EMRB ... they have never supplied them or the verified membership lists," Furtado said.

Enron of Nevada?

Naumann compares the financial collapse of the ESEA health trust fund and its failure to pay medical claims to the scandal involving Enron Corporation.

"It's hard to measure with the press the amount of distrust between this organization and their members and we still have people sitting in financial delinquency," she said. "We feel like this issue is the Enron of Nevada because nobody can get behind the doors and be held accountable for what happened to about $12 million dollars in Nevada."

Furtado has a different estimate of the health trust fund debt. He said the ESEA is doing all it can to resolve unpaid medical claims, that 23 hospitals and a provider of medical health equipment were paid a total of about $1.5 million dollars between November and January and that approximately $7 million remains to be paid.

"Unpaid medical claims are a legitimate issue. I wouldn't try and say it isn't. It is the issue and it is the only reason the Teamsters are having anyone pay attention to them," Furtado said.

Furtado also questions the integrity of Gary Mauger, the head of the Teamsters Local 14. Furtado cites a newsletter from several years ago in which Teamsters officials from the union's international headquarters in Washington accused Mauger of "entering into sham collective bargaining agreements and failing to supervise and enforce contracts."

Mauger was eventually suspended from his union leadership position for 75 days and fined $1,000, but he insists, "The integrity of this organization is beyond reproach."

The so-called sham contracts had been a practice of the local Teamsters chapter long before he took over in 1995, Mauger said.

But when the International Brotherhood of Teamsters "came in to do the audit, they all of a sudden said these are illegal contracts," Mauger said. "The day that we found that out, I cut them out ... and that is a matter of record. They didn't go for that and I served the suspension and that was it. My members re-elected me during the whole process.

"When [Furtado] talks about integrity, he better talk about where that $10-12 million [in the health trust fund] went to, because there is no accountability on that," Mauger said.

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See Earlier Story:
Union Battle Pits Teamsters Against NEA Affiliate 11/05/01