Charlotte Observer: Unions fight over ties to BofA

NewsJune 18, 2009

By Rick Rothacker

A labor union said late Wednesday it had filed charges alleging prohibited ties between another union and Bank of America Corp.

The charges, filed on behalf of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, allege that Charlotte-based Bank of America offered the Service Employees International Union at least $88 million in prohibited loans. Federal law bars loans, gifts and other financial ties between employers and unions attempting to organize that company’s employees, the NUHW said.

The law is designed to keep unions from being influenced by employers and to keep unions from shaking down companies where they are trying to organize workers, the NUHW said. The SEIU has led a series of protests against Bank of America, while seeking to organize the bank’s workers, the NUHW said.

The charges were filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

The SEIU acknowledges that it took out an $80 million loan from Bank of America in 2003, for its headquarters building in Washington, D.C. SEIU spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette described it as a carefully vetted, “arm’s length” transaction.

Besides, “it was almost a different bank back then,” Ringuette added. “There was never any talk (at SEIU) about unionizing the (bank) workers then.”

She compared the other union’s accusations to banning the Communications Workers of America from using phones, or the United Auto Workers from driving American cars. In addition, she said the charges stem from a personal vendetta by Sal Rosselli.

Rosselli, who is the NUHW’s interim president, was a leader at an SEIU branch until he was ousted in January. The SEIU accused him of trying to create a straw “education fund” where he planned to funnel $6 million in dues money for potential intra-union battles. Rosselli disputed the charges and said they stemmed from his ideological disagreements with headquarters.

In January, a hearing conducted by former U.S. Labor Secretary Ray Marshall found that leaders at Rosselli’s SEIU branch “did engage in financial malpractice and undermined democratic procedures” in their money transfers, and hid thousands of dollars in an attorney’s trust account, trying to hide the money from headquarters.

“If they were really concerned about (bank) workers, they would be standing by our side,” Ringuette added.

Bank of America spokeswoman Shirley Norton said the bank is “being inserted into the middle of a dispute between two unions.”

“These allegations are totally without merit and we are confident we will prevail in any administrative process,” she added.

Source: Charlotte Observer