Union Officials Act to Remove Popular Latino Labor Leader from Office
by David Bacon
SAN FRANCISCO (1/31/99) - International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades Suspends Local 4 Financial Secretary Lucho Mauricio, Who Has Doubled Union Membership and Fought for the Rights of All Workers
On January 4, 1999 Painters International Union President Mike Monroe suspended Painters Union Local 4 (San Francisco) Financial Secretary Lucho Mauricio, pending the outcome of an investigation of alleged "financial irregularities." Supporters of Mauricio, however, believe that Mauricio's real "offense" is shaking up the "old boys' network" in the union and promoting union democracy, diversity and a break with business unionism.
Mauricio has doubled the membership of the union since he was elected Financial Secretary in 1997, giving hundreds of new members, mainly Latinos and other minorities, a chance to get good, high-paying craft jobs. "We need a bigger and stronger union that maintains the democratic right of the workers to elect their officials, from the Local level to the International level," Mauricio stated. "There must be equality between all workers and advancement of women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, lesbians and gays and within the union. We also need solidarity among all the different unions in the labor movement." In addition, Mauricio has advocated for retirees in the union, defending the benefits of pensioners.
Mauricio's suspension on Jan. 4 is a violation of due process. It is the latest action in a year and-a-half battle with officials of District Council 8 and the International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades (IBPAT) over the issues of union democracy and advocating on behalf of the members. Mauricio also has sought to eliminate the practice of many union contractors who have neglected to pay workers millions of dollars in overtime and have hired both union and non-union workers and thereby set a two-tier wage system, and require that workers do piece work in a limited period of time.
While Mauricio has questioned the actions of DC 8 officials that have cost the union hundreds of thousands of dollars, the IBPAT inexplicably has appointed a member of DC 8 to oversee an investigation of the union's finances.
For example, a defamation lawsuit has cost IBPAT $975,000. A jury ruled in October that statements made by former DC 8 officials defamed the fund manager of the Bay Area Painters and Tapers Trust Funds. Of the nearly $1 million damage award, Local 4 must pay $200,000 in attorney fees.
Herman Benson, founder of the union watchdog group Association of Union Democracy, said: "The power of union members to elect their own leaders is being eroded. In unions across the country, Locals are being reduced to mere administrative shells, as the real power of the union is going into the hands of the district officers. The situation with Brother Mauricio is a clear example of this phenomenon."
Benson worked with Dow Wilson, who merged two locals to form Local 4 in the 1960s and served as financial secretary of the union until he was murdered in 1966. "Dow Wilson fought against the bureaucracy of the union to get a better contract for the members and improve their working conditions," said Benson, who formed the group Union Democracy with Wilson. "That same battle is continuing today."
District Council 8 is holding a hearing to discuss their charges against Mauricio on Jan. 16 at 10 a.m., 2660 Newhall St. in San Francisco. One of the charges is that he did not collect membership dues. This is an outrageous accusation, since last year he sent letters to 500 members who were delinquent in their dues and collected $100,000. Since the accusers are also the judges, it is expected that they will find him guilty, as they have in the past. "I would appreciate the support of my brothers and sisters in the union," Mauricio stated. "Only unity and strength of numbers can prevent injustice."
Painters Local Union 4 consists of almost 2,000 members who are journeyman and apprentices in the painting and drywall trades. They consist of .5% women, approximately 65% Latinos and African Americans and 35% Caucasians. The Local is affiliated with the IBPAT, a brotherhood of Local Unions, District Councils and other subordinate bodies.
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