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Exclusive: California union president threatened staff and stole records, report finds

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An embattled California union president faces new discipline from SEIU after an independent investigator determined that he threatened staff, improperly suspended other elected officers and stole documents from the labor organization.

The investigator’s report, obtained by The Sacramento Bee, is the latest setback for Richard Louis Brown, the already-suspended leader of SEIU Local 1000, the largest public employee union in California state government.

Brown could face immediate removal from his roles as union president and steward after the investigation found sufficient evidence to support 12 alleged acts of misconduct. The investigator also recommended that Brown be reprimanded for his actions and barred from running for office until 2025.

The union’s 65 board members are expected to vote on the recommendations in a private meeting Saturday. They’ll need a two-thirds majority of present and voting members to approve any disciplinary actions.

Bill Hall, Local 1000’s board chair and acting leader, declined to comment on the findings.

“I am dedicated to suspended President Richard Louis Brown having his fair, unbiased due process,” Hall said.

The investigation by Maryland-based mediator Homer La Rue stemmed from disciplinary charges, originally filed in March 2022, alleging Brown misused his power to defy and subvert the union’s board and executive committee.

Anica Walls, Local 1000’s vice president for organizing and representation, filed 10 charges against Brown, alleging he failed to hold board meetings and occupied Local 1000 headquarters after the board moved to suspend him.

Michael Guss, a Local 1000 district labor council leader, also filed charges alleging Brown had exhibited threatening and targeting behavior toward board members during some of his “Local 1000 Listens to You” live-streamed programs in 2021.

La Rue’s investigation found sufficient evidence that Brown failed to properly conduct board meetings, undermined the authority of the union’s executive committee, improperly suspended three of Local 1000’s vice presidents, threatened to discipline staff for communicating with the “suspended” vice presidents, illegally seized and occupied the Local 1000 headquarters, stole union records, and improperly approved 12 holidays for Local 1000 staff without board approval or collective bargaining.

Report finds SEIU discipline appropriate

A central question in the investigation was whether Brown’s suspension in late February 2022 was justified. La Rue determined that Brown’s actions did in fact pose “an immediate threat to the welfare of Local 1000” and that the three vice presidents had “good and sufficient cause” to immediately suspend him.

Evidence also supported Guss’s allegations that Brown bullied and intimidated board members when he invited them to his house to “engage in an altercation” and threatened to check their credit scores after they voted down his proposed 2022 budget. La Rue also found that Brown targeted Guss, who is Jewish, for his religious beliefs.

Brown declined calls from The Sacramento Bee on Friday. Via text message, he wouldn’t say whether he’d seen a copy of the report and its findings.

The suspended president has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, objected to his suspension and sued the union and its board for $12 million in early December for“mental suffering and irreparable damage” that they’ve allegedly caused him since he took office.

Brown regularly airs his grievances to the Local 1000 membership via Zoom meetings broadcast live on Facebook. In a Tuesday post after a 90-minute broadcast, he equated the Local 1000 leadership battle — a so-called coup against him — to the Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol two years ago.

“I, Richard Louis Brown, never acted in BAD FAITH in performing my duties as the duly elected Local 1000 President,” Brown wrote in the Tuesday post.

What led up to union president’s suspension?

The findings are the latest development in a multi-year power struggle between Brown and board members who opposed his leadership from the start.

Brown faced resistance from his 65-member board soon after he won election in May 2021 with only 33% of the vote in an election with less than 8% turnout. His campaign promises included eliminating political spending, slashing union dues in half and extending voting to non-members, along with other changes that critics deemed unrealistic.

Later in 2021, board members pushed to take away Brown’s presidential authority and transfer it instead to a leader chosen by the board. Brown would no longer have the authority to lead contract negotiations, serve as the union’s primary spokesperson, preside over board meetings or hire and fire staff, among other powers. They called a last-minute meeting over a weekend in October 2021 where 34 board members voted to strip Brown of his powers and designated board member Hall as leader of Local 1000.

A quorum of 33 members is required to hold a meeting, but Brown still called the meeting and vote “illegitimate” and vowed to suspend and discipline the board members involved.

Hall then sued Brown in January 2022 and asked the judge to remove him from power and bar him from running for re-election. That lawsuit, in Sacramento County Superior Court, alleges that Brown violated union rules when he unilaterally decided to spend money on political campaigns, purchase software, pay off a $6 million loan on the union’s midtown Sacramento headquarters and give union employees an extra six days off — all without approval from the board and without disclosing details to them.

What followed next was a series of lockouts in February from the SEIU Local 1000 headquarters — first, of the three vice presidents who Brown claimed were “plotting to suspend him”, and then of Brown himself by those same three vice presidents. La Rue’s investigation found that Brown’s attempt to suspend those three executives was improper, while their suspension of him was justified.

Brown and about 20 of his supporters occupied the building in early March after gaining access without a key, and he removed several boxes of documents. The escalation led to a standoff, mediated by Sacramento police, between Brown’s posse and the three vice presidents he claimed to have suspended.

Hall then filed for a restraining order against Brown two days later, which a judge granted. The order was extended by a preliminary injunction later in March.