Serious charges, counter-charges fly at SEIU Local 1000
Richard Louis Brown, 51, has heard it all. He’s been told he’s a black man who is too loud, too angry, too confrontational, too willing to threaten the powers that be to unseat a long-entrenched president of SEIU Local 1000, the largest union of state workers in California. But then a strange thing happened. He won.
For a halcyon moment, all seemed right. After his victory on May 24, Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker called and congratulated Brown for succeeding her atop the 96,000-member union. Another opponent Miguel Cordova told the Sacramento Bee, “What we heard in this election was [members] wanted change” and that all “divisions have to end after all this.” Brown told the Bee, “All these things I’ve been running my mouth on, I have to produce.”
And then all hell broke loose.
At 5 in the morning after winning the election, Sacramento police woke Brown to investigate what proved a fake 911 call claiming a woman was screaming from inside his Oak Park residence. Then although Brown was elected on a platform to end the union’s partisan political ties and political donations, President Walker called an emergency lame-duck session of the Board of Directors to pass $1 million to fight the recall of Governor Gavin Newsom.
Then last week, multiple candidates submitted official protests to overturn the election. This included Cordova who said he now seeks Brown’s disqualification on grounds he attempted to buy votes and other unethical behavior that violated the local’s code of conduct. And who is the person who will appoint the committee to review all protests and issue a final ruling? President Walker, who stands to potentially stay in office if Brown is disqualified ex post facto. (Editor’s note: See June 18 update to this story.)
So now Brown sees “humongous hypocrisy” everywhere.
“On the one hand, they say to respect the results of the election for Joe Biden, while at the same time, they are letting my amazing election victory for Local 1000 President be cast aside, invalidated and taken from the 2,637 voters who believed in me.
“I’m an outspoken black man who will fight for everyone equally, and they are not having it. They also sent the cops to my house, which could have cost me my life. This is a battle of a lifetime,” he said.
The source of the 911 call remains unknown. The Sacramento Police confirmed early on May 25 they investigated an anonymous disturbance call. Brown said he was at home alone. He has no roommates and is not in a relationship. (“I’m alone every night. How’s that for my social life?” he laughed.) Brown let the police in to look around, and the police soon left and have said the call seems to have been unfounded.
Spokesperson Officer Karl Chan added that at least two other similar 911 calls on different blocks in the area have been made in the last several weeks. “The department will continue to investigate any further incidents that occur to determine if there is a connection between them,” Chan said.
But Brown believes the 911 call is related to Local 1000. He has asked the police department for a copy of the 911 call to see if he recognizes the voice, but the police declined. Brown has since submitted a public records request for the call noting in that request, “I am still in fear for [my] life because I feel my union is threatening my life.”
He told the Sacto Politico, “Since I’ve lived at this address going back to November 2012, the cops had never come to my house before. It is this great coincidence that after I pull off the largest upset in Local 1000 history that the cops are at my doorsteps.”
“I feel strongly in my heart that someone in my Union is behind this. I believe they thought given the way I do my videos that I would be perceived as angry if the police came to my house and that I would lose my temper. Which is my being stereotyped as the angry black man,” said Brown, who during the campaign criticized most of his opponents in strong terms. All of these videos remain up on his Facebook page.
Brown and other Local 1000 members said they also concerned about how silent President Walker and upper leadership have been about several aspects of the election and post-election period. The union did not respond to several requests Monday for comment. They have also released no information publicly or told candidates like Brown when the required three-person Protest Review Committee will be established, who will serve on it, or what process will be followed to consider the protests.
Some of the protests were lodged against the union itself for how the election was administered, including charges that voter eligibility rules were changed at the last minute and that an election vendor was directed to throw out hundreds of ballot with no explanation or hard count of the numbers involved. Thus Brown asks if he is disqualified and/or the election ordered to be redone, isn’t this a huge conflict of interest since President Walker will name all three members of the committee and, per local bylaws, their decision is final?
Since his election victory, Brown said he’s been harassed online through hostile postings to his Facebook page. He also said someone even submitted an unsubstantiated claim to the California Debt & Investment Advisory Commission that he was filming videos while on the job there.
Brown said it is hard for him to believe all these events are unconnected. He believes Walker, Cordova and other candidates coordinated their official protests filed last week. This included Cordova citing Brown for breaking the code of conduct for candidates by attacking Walker and other candidates. Cordova also noted as unacceptable Brown’s call to end political donations and offering to pay the membership dues of employees so they could vote in the election.
“Elections, yes, they can be nasty,” Cordova said. “But as I looked at some [of Brown’s videos and rhetoric afterward], to me is this really what we want people to think Labor is and that Unions do? There definitely is room for criticism or critique, but is it really about critiquing and improving the Union or is it about breaking down and weakening the Union?”
He said he has not been involved in any alleged harassment toward Brown and claims that he is coordinating with Walker are false but “to be expected” given Cordova has supported Walker in the past. But he said he hasn’t been in touch with Walker “in some time.”
Brown responded, “Was I a little tough on people [during the campaign]? You better believe I was. Cause I wanted people to know that I would fight these people the way I would fight the politicians for our contracts. Everyone knows that about me. That’s why they sent those cops to my house. They thought I would have an attitude with the police, but I support the police. I believe in the police union. I’m a labor leader, and I am not going to criticize other unions.”
Cordova also recognizes Brown did channel real frustration among many of the union voters and non-voters. Only about 7,900 out of 54,000 dues-payers voted in the election. Brown won 33%, which bested Walker’s 27% and Cordova’s 15% with the rest going to other candidates.
“No matter how we slice it, we’ve had a growing amount of apathy and number of non-members [who don’t pay dues] for sometime now,” he said. “Brown tapped into that, whether they completely agree with everything he was saying or whether they just agreed with the emotion.”
Brown said he doesn’t regret anything he said in the campaign, and he has not taken down a single video or social media posting.
“I am transparent,” he said. “I don’t wish I could redo anything in hindsight because 2,637 people believed in me. They accepted me on good days and bad days, and I love them for it. I am not going to ‘quote’ change. I was exercising my freedom of speech. I was competing in this great country.”
He believes the charge of vote-buying is “silly” for several reasons. First, he said he made the offers to underscore his point about the undemocratic nature of members having to pay dues to participate in the election. Brown calls this a union version of a poll tax. Second, no one took him up on his offer, and third, even if someone had asked him to pay their membership dues, nothing guaranteed anyone would actually vote for Brown.
Brown himself did not lodge any protests, but he said he could have. For instance, he heard from two employees that a job steward and Walker supporter at the DMV headquarters facility in Sacramento was giving out lottery scratch cards to those who completed and turned in their ballots to her. (Ballot collecting or “vote harvesting” is legal in SEIU Local 100.)
When Cordova was asked why his attitude toward Brown changed from his initial call to heal divisions in the union, Cordova blamed Brown. “When you lose, you say you have to find ways for us to work together, but so does the winner,” he said. “[Brown’s] not even trying to educate himself. This is just bringing the union as far down as possible right away.”
That said, members of leadership have not appeared to go out the way to assist Brown during his transition period. Brown’s swearing in is currently scheduled for June 30. He said few members of the board have reached out to him, and he wasn’t even officially invited to observe the emergency board meeting that approved the $1 million in recall money. He said someone emailed him the Zoom link for the meeting, but Brown wasn’t sure this was done officially, and the link didn’t work anyway.
But with little more than two weeks left until his swearing in, Brown will just wait to see how the Election Protest Committee conducts its review and ultimately rules. Until then, he is content to not let anyone see him sweat.
“They know the status quo is over. This is why they are attacking me,” he said. “But here’s the problem. My name is all across America. If they really think they are going to disqualify me and people are going to accept it, they’re wrong. This is a war they don’t want. If they disqualify me and silence 2,637 voters, those people are not going to take that kindly.”
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6/18 Update: Protests rejected against in-coming President Brown