Labor's merger pains - Page 2

How a small SF union lost its independence -- and can't get it back
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According to a complaint filed with the Department of Fair Housing and Employment by former 270 employee Leslie Scanagatta, the consulting gig would have paid Lujan $500 a week, and the union would pay to fly him from his home in Texas to San Jose for meetings.

Scanagatta's complaint states that Lujan became angry after she and several other officials voiced concerns with the plan. It alleges that Lujan declared to another union official that she would "be terminated by the end of the week" — which she was.

"It was devastating," Scanagatta, who now works for Santa Cruz County, said. "I was laid off for eight months and I've taken a 38 percent pay cut now."

Lujan did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

One of the people pushing for Lujan's consultant job was Edgar Calonje. Calonje, who worked for the union as an independent contractor, said he met with Lujan before the boss announced his retirement, and that Lujan told him and Enrique Arguello, a member of 270's executive board, that he was planning "to get his retirement [benefits] and consultant fees as well."

"We thought if we helped him [get the deal], we would be in good shape," Calonje said by phone from Nicaragua, where he was visiting family. "But that's not what happened."

First, Lujan withdrew his retirement and decided to stay on. Then, in November 2007, Colanje lost his job — after, he says, a private memo he had written surfaced in which he criticized Lujan's leadership and integrity.

Shortly after Colanje was let go, Arguello — who now says he didn't actively support Lujan's retirement plan — resigned from his job as a business agent rather than accept a demotion. A Nov. 28 letter from Lujan to Arguello obtained by the Guardian states, "the reason for the change in your position was because the pattern of actions made by you in the past could put this Local in a difficult position."

THE LOCK OUT

Early in 2008, the atmosphere of dissension in San Jose began to affect the hiring hall in Daly City, and eventually boiled over into physical confrontation. First, former Local 36 business manager Alex Corns clashed with Lujan and resigned in a huff from his new job at 270. Then Will Davis, who ran the Daly City hall after the merger, was dismissed. A March 6 letter from Lujan to Davis cites Davis's "lack of commitment to work under my agenda as Business Manager" as the reason for his termination.

The following afternoon, Friday, March 7, Davis and Corns arrived at the hall to find the locks changed. That evening, they told us, a group of former Local 36 members met in a pizza parlor across from the shuttered hall and decided to petition the International to grant Local 36 back its independence. According to their account of what happened next, which was verified by Sgt. Ron Mussman of the Daly City Police Department, when Davis, Corns, and the other participants in the meeting emerged from the pizza parlor, they saw Lujan sitting in his pickup truck, which was parked in the restaurant's lot. Across the street, two officials from 270 were inside the hiring hall removing computer equipment.

The now-dissident union members surrounded Lujan's vehicle. Lujan fled the scene, according to worker and police accounts, allegedly striking one of the members in the forearm with his car as he backed up. The incensed crowd moved across the street and the workers from 270 barricaded themselves inside the hall. Lujan reportedly flagged down a police car as he drove away and the cops drove to the hall to escort the two men from San Jose safely out of the building.

Corns and Davis said they could not secure keys to the hall's new locks by the time of Monday morning's job call. For two consecutive mornings, out-of-work union members were turned away.

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