The State Worker: SEIU dissident renews fight for union transparency

06/26/2014 12:00 AM

06/26/2014 8:12 AM

Persistence, thy name is Miriam Noujaim.

Leaders of the largest state-employee union, SEIU Local 1000, probably have some other names for the DMV employee and union member who once again has revved up a lawsuit aimed at prying open the union’s financial records.

In a petition filed in Sacramento this week, Noujaim seeks a court order allowing her to review and copy the last two years of Local 1000’s travel and expense records. Specifically, she wants to see expense account statements and reimbursement requests for President Yvonne Walker and three of her lieutenants. Noujaim also wants her attorney, Mark Goudy, in the room during the review.

Noujaim’s lawsuit cites public records that show Local 1000 took in $58 million in 2011 and spent $3.25 million on travel. The next year, the local reported spending $5.21 million on travel against $62 million in revenue.

“Some of the travel expenditures have been to send (union) board members to China” and other questionable junkets, according to the lawsuit.

The union didn’t respond to requests for comment. But the court filing includes testy letters between Noujaim’s lawyer and the local’s attorney, Felix De La Torre, that make clear SEIU doesn’t want anything copied.

“(S)he intends to publish the union’s financial documents in the public domain to further her own personal publicity campaign,” De La Torre wrote in a March 14 letter to Goudy.

Goudy’s response: “You could not be more wrong.” Noujaim, he said, is a dues-paying member with a legal right to know how the union spends her money.

Noujaim says she’s interested in running for union office as a reformer who would make the organization more transparent. She has spent thousands of dollars to run an anti-SEIU-leadership website and organize paid pickets at SEIU events. This month, she launched an email campaign telling members how to cut their dues payments.

Two years ago, Noujaim sued to review and copy Local 1000 banking records. She received access, but the court sided with Local 1000’s concerns that copying bank documents or having a nonmember present would compromise Local 1000’s privacy rights.

After spending a half day looking at records, Noujaim said she saw evidence of union-funded junkets to Dallas and Pebble Beach and food purchases at upscale restaurants. The Bee couldn’t confirm any of her claims.

Undeterred, Noujaim this time wants a look at a narrow band of information that Goudy says could be redacted to protect, say, credit card account numbers.

If the former litigation is a guide, the case could be resolved in about a year. Noujaim wants to make the information public in time for next June, which is the month members can opt to cut their payments to the union. SEIU will bring overwhelming resources to the court fight.

“This is David and Goliath,” Goudy said, “and we’re throwing pebbles.”

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