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Letter from UNITE-HERE Detroit Local 24
Source Nancy Jowske
Date 09/02/06/13:50

Brothers, Sisters and friends,

I AM WRITING to you as my allies in the fight for workers' rights, union democracy and the re-genesis of the labor movement. In my own words and from my own experiences, I want to convey the truth about recent events at UNITE HERE local 24 in Detroit. I am part of an organizing team that, together with fed-up local 24 members, has been working to restore true union democracy and strong member service to the 7000+ members of local 24.

As those of us in Michigan face the very real possibility of a "right to work" ballot initiative in 2010, I am sickened and saddened to think of the opinion the 7000+ members of local 24 and their families will carry to the ballot box of organized labor if Joe Daugherty, the casinos and his Las Vegas hired help are successful in their attempt to "take back" local 24.

As Bruce Raynor told the Las Vegas Sun last week:
"The strength of our union has been compromised by two things: the failure of this merger to produce results for working people and a naked power grab by Wilhelm and his followers... designed to enhance their own power and financial control of the union rather than deal with the real issues our members are facing."

Over the past three weeks I've personally spoken with over one hundred rank and file members from 21 different shops in the 1500 member Food Service division of local 24. They included servers, bartenders, porters, cooks, concessioners and others from country clubs, restaurants and event venues. They are the backbone of local 24, many of them dues paying members for decades.

These members are struggling daily with the harsh economic realities of the Detroit area as their hours are cut, their positions are eliminated and their employers threaten closures, privatization and further cutbacks. It is during these most trying times that union members should be able to turn to their union local for justice, support and strength in the workplace.

Yet, with precious few exceptions, the members I've spoken to express utter disgust and outrage with the direction their local has taken over the past eight years. Their reports, taken together, illustrate to me a pattern of entrenched corruption, cronyism and ineptitude unlike anything I have ever witnessed in my time in the union movement. The staff leadership of local 24 has not only profoundly failed these members, but also ruthlessly exploited them for personal gain to the detriment of all we fight for.

It is impossible to fully detail here the pain, anger, frustration and disillusionment of local 24 members --

-- The Wayne State worker disciplined for an action he took at the advice of his business rep who then tricked him into signing a restrictive "last chance" agreement that cost him his job two months later and then refused to answer his calls

-- Members clearly unjustly terminated but unable to get a return phone call from their union after dozens of attempts, left to fight for their livelihood with no union support or involvement or even a copy of their contract

-- The elderly waitresses at a famous Detroit restaurant, 30 year members of local 24, who were called, on the shop floor and to their faces, "a bunch of ignorant bitches" by their union rep for repeatedly requesting their union fight for health insurance benefits

-- Shop management across the board taking gross advantage of the local's corruption and ineptitude, violating contracts with abandon and working in collusion with the business rep to further suppress union members' rights

-- The Ford Field worker who eventually had his grievance procedure explained to him by a staff person at the NLRB, after dozens of unreturned calls to his rep and the local for answers

-- Contracts consistently "bargained" only to the boss's approval with no member input, sometimes by fax, sometimes without a ratification vote or ratification by a carefully selected few

-- The recent "vote until you get it right" reopener at a country club where members were required to vote and revote for unilateral changes that deny them overtime and makes all benefits subject to management "discretion"

-- Members across the board unable to obtain copies of their contracts or secure any understanding of what their contract covers, who have never seen a steward, business rep or any union presence, who cannot get a call returned, who have never even heard a rumor of a union meeting, training, election, posting or communication of any kind from their local

-- The multitude of unanswered complaints made to the local about business reps

-- Multiple contracts left open for years without any explanation to the members

-- Vocal members and their supporters tricked into or encouraged to give up their membership and become "fee payers" to prevent them from voting or running for office

-- the 30 year member who said, "in my shop, the young workers believe the only difference between a union job and working at McDonald's is the dues."

Meanwhile, my colleagues have been talking to members in other divisions and report all the same problems and then some -- business reps receiving special "discounts," free meals and perks from casino bosses and hotel managers hotel workers being told to take new pillows and give special attention to rooms booked by their union rep -- the $10,000 "retirement party" for a business rep -- members being pressured, harassed and coerced not to run for union office -- divisions being "salted" with union professionals from other parts of the country who then ran unopposed and won union office after only months "on the job" and without any attempt at a democratic voting process.

We have been working hard for the past month to address, where we can, the damages done to dues paying members by the former staff of local 24, working 14 hour days to save jobs, enforce contracts and win back the trust of these members in their union. However, our efforts are being opposed by HERE staff from Las Vegas and a few former local 24 staff and favored stewards (with blatant support from the large casino owners) all under the direction of Joe Daugherty, the recently reassigned director of the Michigan State Council. Daugherty now claims himself an "elected leader" of local 24, as the president of the food service division. Yet not one member I have spoken to was notified of any call for nominations or aware of the "vote" that resulted in Daugherty being "elected" their president. Most had never met him or even heard his name. (Mr. Daugherty contends he ran himself for that position when no rank and file member could be found willing to run for the position -- news to the dozens of food service members I spoke to with decades of seniority and service to the local!)

Now, from his position as an "elected official" of local 24, Daugherty is pushing a disaffiliation petition, from his "office" in a downtown non-union bar, using coercion, intimidation and complete misrepresentation to gain signatures while denying members wishes to have their names removed from that petition. If successful in their crooked attempt to regain control of the local, thousands of local 24 members will continue to suffer for this twisted and corrupt brand of "unionism".

We are carefully documenting the testimony of local 24 members and we will be providing the opportunity for all of labor to see and hear, straight from the members' mouths, the ugly truth about local 24 under the "leadership" of Joe Daugherty. Myself, I cannot capture in words the heartbreak. Their experiences go far beyond simple "member dissatisfaction" or the routine failings of a poorly managed union local. Their words, their stories, would cut to the bone of any true champion of worker's rights.

I strongly urge you to circulate this email within the labor community and spread the truth about the UNITE HERE internal conflict and recent events at local 24. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like to see further documentation of the truth about local 24 or call the UNITE HERE Michigan State Council office at 866-956-2580 for further information.

In Solidarity,

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