News Story

SEIU Sues Its Own Members for Banquet Hall They Paid For

Taylor school employees decertify, so union retaliates

A group of Service Employees International Union members who work for the Taylor school district is being sued by their union local over the ownership of a banquet hall. The lawsuit comes after the members petitioned to dissolve a decade-old merger between the SEIU’s Taylor and Lansing affiliates.

The lawsuit asks for control of a banquet hall the Taylor union local owned before the 2005 merger. Because of the merger, SEIU Local 517M of Lansing is technically suing seven of its own members for ownership of the property.

The Taylor hall was built using money collected from fundraisers, not union dues, said Kathie Fields, former president of the Taylor union local, and a defendant in the lawsuit.

Fields sent a petition with nearly 400 signatures to the SEIU headquarters in Washington, D.C., in May. She asked the national office to either dissolve the merger or send legal help. After the request went ignored, a 200-signature petition was sent to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission on Sept. 22.

The lawsuit against Fields and other members was filed on Oct. 27.

Fields says the lawsuit is a slap in the face for exercising her and other members’ rights under Michigan’s Public Employment Relations Act. (Fields’ lawyer reviewed her comments.)

“We are not a politically minded group,” she said. “The most politics we get involved in is re-elections for our board of education. We’re support staff for the Taylor school district, so [the board] is what’s important to us. We are community driven.”

Fields says she was served with a restraining order the same day the lawsuit was filed. It came during a dinner for seniors held at the banquet hall and in front of the school board and school administrators.

“We had planned on staying SEIU — just dissolve the merger,” she said. “But when they said no, the membership voted to decertify and represent ourselves.”

SEIU Local 517M did not respond to a request for comment.

F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the dispute is another example of union leadership that is out of touch with local union members.

“Local union members fundraised for the hall and put their blood sweat and tears into building it. The SEIU shouldn’t swoop in and kick them out,” he said.

“This is yet another example of a far-off union headquarters thinking they know what is best for the local membership,” Vernuccio added. “It is no wonder that more local union members are wanting to break away from out-of-touch leadership.”