An embattled union president has been accused of sexual misconduct in a lawsuit.
An official with Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West accused union president David Regan of sexual misconduct in a lawsuit.
Mindy Sturge, a former coordinator with SEIU-UHW, accuses Regan and the union of fostering "a discriminatory workplace" and of inappropriately touching and texting female workers. The misconduct, the suit says, was pervasive throughout the labor organization. Sturge said the union ignored allegations of harassment and tacitly accepted hostile conditions for female employees.
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"This conduct was engaged in by senior SEIU-UHW managers and directors, including but expressly not limited to [director Marcus] Hatcher and Regan," the suit, which was obtained by Payday Report, says. The filing adds that the behavior was "unwelcome, regular, and pervasive."
"Despite reports of this behavior, SEIU-UHW took no action to discipline Hatcher or others who created a hostile work environment, nor did SEIU-UHW undertake an investigation of the workplace or of Hatcher's behavior until after Sturge had been assaulted by Hatcher," it says.
An SEIU-UHW spokesman denied the allegations, saying the case is "without merit." The union said it takes sexual harassment complaints seriously and took swift action against Hatcher, hiring an outside law firm to investigate the allegations. It immediately fired Hatcher for violating fraternization policies at the conclusion of the investigation.
"We don't believe the lawsuit has merit and we intend to defend the organization," the spokesman said in an email. "We stand by the actions the organization took in handling that matter."
Sturge's attorney Kyra Subbotin said her client still believes in the mission of the union and that she wanted to handle the matter internally, but union leadership "preferred to fight this matter in the courts." She said other female members have approached Sturge to support the case.
"The union should have suspended him immediately when Ms. Sturge made the complaint. He [Hatcher] still showed up at union events that my client was at," Subbotin said. "They didn't handle this right."
The SEIU-UHW spokesman said Regan spearheaded the response to the complaint and has acted to create a safe environment for all workers. He acknowledged that Regan and Sturge had had a "brief argument" in the past, but that the disagreement in "no way was harassment or berating or retaliation."
"Dave Regan led the union's response to this employee's complaint and took decisive action to address it in authorizing the outside investigation immediately and terminating Hatcher for violating our harassment and fraternization policy as soon as we got the results of that investigation," the spokesman said. "Under Dave's leadership, the union has strong harassment policies in place and took this matter very seriously, engaging outside experts on harassment who conducted multiple trainings, first for managers and then for all staff, to heighten our commitment to a harassment-free environment."
"Unions are supposed to protect employees…They have not addressed the ongoing issues of this workplace," Subbotin said. "My client believes in the mission of the union and she's really sorry she had to file this lawsuit to accomplish what needs to be accomplished…membership dues are being spent on defending this type of conduct."
Attempts to reach Marcus Hatcher were unsuccessful. Several public phone numbers associated with Hatcher were disconnected, and one that was active went unanswered; it did not allow for messages.
Regan's conduct as the head of the union, which boasts 100,000 members, has come under scrutiny in recent days. On Tuesday, the Sacramento Bee reported that the union leader shoved Democratic assemblyman Rich Bloom at a restaurant.
SEIU, which boasts one of the highest percentage of female members in the labor movement, has made combating sexual harassment a centerpiece in its activism in the service and restaurant industries. Despite its rhetoric, the union has found itself at the center of a number of allegations that have led to the resignation of a number of top officials, according to Mike Elk of Payday Report. The most prominent came in October 2017 when union vice president Scott Courtney resigned following misconduct allegations. SEIU president Mary Kay Henry condemned Courtney, who led the Fight for $15 movement, in the aftermath.
"There is no place in our organization for conduct that violates our Code of Ethics. Such conduct does not reflect who we are or represent the values that guide the important work we do every day for working people, our families, and communities," Henry said at the time.
Some labor watchdogs said the piling up of allegations against top officials paint a different picture. Peter List, a former union organizer who now works as a management-side consultant, said these types of suits point to a problem that goes beyond individual offenders.
"SEIU claims it is one of the most progressive unions in the country. Yet, since the emergence of the #MeToo movement, the union has had several sexual predators in their leadership ranks that have either been forced to resign or been fired outright," List said. "The current and prior allegations against Regan appear to be just the latest examples of seemingly deviant behavior in the union's senior leadership."
The national SEIU did not return request for comment.