TRI-MET UNION OFFICIALS SUE TWO MEMBERS
Oregonian, The (Portland, OR) - July 5, 1999
Author: GORDON OLIVER - The Oregonian
Readability: >12 grade level (Lexile: 1360)Summary: The libel suit stems from the bus drivers' criticism of the leaders' financial abilities and negotiating skills
A bitter feud within the union that represents Tri-Met bus drivers and rail operators has spilled out of the union hall with a lawsuit filed by the top three officials against two members.
Amalgamated Transit Union Division 757 officials, including president Ronald Heintzman, business representative Rufus Fuller and secretary-treasurer Thomas Wallace, have accused two Tri-Met drivers of defamation and libel in a lawsuit filed last week in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
The drivers, Samuel F. Schwarz of Portland and Gerald "Red" Worland of Milwaukie, have written open letters to union members and their employers harshly criticizing the union leaders' spending practices, financial accounting and contract negotiating abilities. They also accuse Heintzman of making derogatory comments about union members. Worland also raises questions about possible ballot tampering in a close union vote on a new contract.
The lawsuit lists more than two dozen written statements, which it attributes to the two drivers, that the union leaders say are false and defamatory. The union leaders seek $100,000 in damages from each driver.
Duo rejects retraction letters
Schwarz and Worland refused earlier to sign retraction letters that had been prepared for them by an attorney for the three union officials. Worland, a Tri-Met employee for nearly 25 years, remained defiant in the face of the lawsuit.
"I am looking forward to it," said Worland as he stretched out at his kitchen table after his morning shift driving Line 70.
Schwarz, a Tri-Met driver since 1988, said he was surprised and sickened by the lawsuit. "Do they really think they are going to get $100,000 from a bus driver?" he said.
Heintzman, president of the union local since 1988, said none of the three union officials would comment on the lawsuit. Their attorney, Gene Mechanic of Portland, was on vacation and unavailable for comment. Heintzman said no union money was being spent on the lawsuit.
Schwarz, who has long been critical of union leaders, lost a 1997 race against Wallace for the secretary-treasurer position. Worland, who lost a race for an executive board position about 10 years ago, has been less openly critical of union leadership.
But both escalated their attacks during debate over a new five-year labor agreement with Tri-Met, which members approved 667 to 633 on March 24. The lawsuit refers to documents printed since February of this year.
The two drivers have focused their criticisms on union spending practices, including reimbursements for business trips and the union's purchase of a new automobile; the new labor agreement; and criticisms of Tri-Met's system of responding to customer complaints against drivers. They have accused Heintzman of calling union members "(expletive) idiots" at a union meeting.
Worland also indirectly questioned in one letter whether the union had tampered with the ballot box during balloting on the Tri-Met contract.
Worland said he saw a retired union member open the ballot boxes and remove ballots before the close of balloting in order to begin the vote count. Both men noted that ballots were not numbered, and identifications were not checked during the vote.
Heintzman has said in a union meeting that election procedures were the same as in past years. Retired union members gained a pension increase under the new contract.
International office stays out
Schwarz said he was unable to persuade the union's international office in Washington, D.C., or any state government agency to review the election results.
Irv Fletcher, president of Oregon AFL-CIO, said it is unusual for labor leaders to take legal action against their own members. But Fletcher, who said he was unaware of the fighting within the transit union, said the leaders must have felt that they had no choice except to react to allegations of personal wrongdoing.
"It's going to be open for public disclosure for both sides, and most union officials don't do that lightly," he said. "We have enough people on the outside we have to fight, rather than fighting our own membership."
The transit union's Division 757 is a member of AFL-CIO. It has 3,500 dues-paying members, including 2,000 at Tri-Met.