Rank and Revile

Municipal employees with Local 532 are cutting off the higher-ups for lack of support

Baynham says that the only reason her organization has not joined with the Fort Lauderdale union in withholding dues is because the payments are automatically taken out of workers' paychecks. "We have no other choice, because our contract is already payroll-deducted," she says.

Although Dunn and Local 532 are backed up by others in organized labor, the Fort Lauderdale feud reeks of politics. In October, Dunn unsuccessfully ran for the presidency of Council 79 -- about the same time that Local 532 decided to withhold its dues. The Fort Lauderdale union and its allies accuse Jeanette Wynn, the eventual victor, of withholding services in retaliation for Dunn's candidacy. "We do feel that it is a trickle-down effect from that," says Baynham, of Local 2866.

Conversely, Dunn's detractors believe she's exploiting her power as union president to carry out a personal vendetta against Wynn. Dunn says there is no truth to the allegation. "Absolutely not," she says. "The reason I ran is because I thought maybe I could help people get services."

The union's decision has exacerbated bickering inside Local 532. A handful of members protest that the decision was made unilaterally by Dunn, without the approval of the membership and in violation of the union's constitution. These critics claim that most union members were not even aware until March, when a vote was finally held on the subject, that their dues were being withheld from the statewide council.

Elgin Jones, a Fort Lauderdale engineering inspector, points out the absurdity of members voting on whether to withhold dues seven months after the union began doing so. Jones believes the only reason a vote was taken at all is that he and others began complaining of the decision. "Ray Charles can see through that," says Jones, an incessant critic of Dunn. "It just doesn't work. It doesn't add up."

Jones and his allies point to AFSCME's constitution -- to which all affiliated unions are subject -- to bolster their argument. The constitution states that local unions must appeal to the national leadership of AFSCME before disaffiliating themselves from a state council. By not paying its dues for the better part of a year, this is in essence what the Fort Lauderdale union has done.

Dunn is at first reluctant to answer questions about the fracas. She says that her lawyer has told her to keep quiet, but then she talks for 20 minutes. "They've been saying they're gonna improve the situation and they're going to change it, but they won't give us a date or tell us how or when," she says of Council 79. "It's like paying money out of your pocket every month for something you never receive."

The more than three-hour meeting at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' hall ends without resolution. After presentations by Wynn, Gonzalez-Neimeiser, a representative from the national headquarters in Washington, and the head of the Miami regional office, Local 532 declines to open its checkbook. Any decision on whether to resume paying dues is delayed until at least this week when the board meets.

Dunn says that she is unruffled by the dustup and that the $50,000 is waiting for Council 79 as soon as concrete changes are implemented. "I have the money, so I'm not worried," she says. "The bottom line is, if we pay you, we should get something in return."

Contact Paul Demko at his e-mail address: Paul_Demko@newtimesbpb.com

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