An Unholy Union

In February 1994, the United Food and Commercial Workers union, Local 7, got a second chance.

The previous spring the state's largest labor organization had made a bid to unionize the Alamosa City Market's one hundred or so grocery workers. But Local 7 had lost the 1993 campaign for new members in Colorado's San Luis Valley. The vote had been close, but the effort had been a public-relations disaster.Workers at the grocery store, a Local 7 staffer later reported, had been turned off by organizational meetings that had turned into "drunken orgies." Following one such meeting, at which alcohol supposedly had been freely served to minors, several union representatives jumped into a hot tub. As the clothes came off and people began groping each other, a woman on the deck filmed the event with a video camera.

Word of the party soon leaked out--the woman filming the event later slipped and broke her ankle--and following the unsuccessful vote to unionize, City Market workers indicated the reason they'd cast their ballots against Local 7: The union's behavior had disgusted them. "It made the Local look low-class," one grocery-store worker complained.

But thanks to a UFCW appeal to the National Labor Relations Board, that vote had been overturned, and Local 7 was back in town for a second try. This time things would be different.

They were; they were worse. In the early morning hours of February 18, 1994, a man paid by Local 7 to help organize the Alamosa City Market workers sexually assaulted a young woman sent by Local 7 to help with the campaign. No one disputes that the incident took place. What has become a point of contention is what the two were doing together in the first place.

The man, a 43-year-old Colorado native named Gilbert Padilla, was familiar to many people at Local 7. He'd been in the hot tub in Alamosa the year before. He'd allegedly sexually harassed one woman several years earlier. Another union member insists that she complained about his alleged sexual harassment to union officials, who promised that Padilla would never again be used by Local 7 as an organizer.

Yet a vocal group of current and former members of Local 7, men and women, say the union's leaders have tolerated, and even encouraged, such destructive, macho behavior.

And as the new City Market campaign got under way, there was Padilla again.
The month before, a union official named Steve Maloney later reported, he'd overheard Padilla and a friend ask the president of UFCW Local 7 to send them a "party girl" for the Alamosa campaign. That would explain the young woman's presence at an important organizing effort that promised to be difficult and contentious. Barely past her twentieth birthday, she had no previous experience in union organizing. "She was there for one reason, and one reason only," recalls Linda Coughlin, another former Local 7 staffer. "And that's because she was a cute young thing."

The City Market campaign went badly. The union lost in a landslide its bid to represent the store. And in June 1995 Gilbert Padilla pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the young woman.

But how much was Local 7 itself to blame?

With approximately 22,000 members in Colorado and Wyoming, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 7, is the largest and most visible labor organization in the state. Although it represents some professionals, such as registered nurses at Kaiser Permanente, and a handful of packing plant workers, the bulk of Local 7's membership serves the public every day as the clerks, checkers, meat-cutters and stockers of Colorado's largest grocery stores--Safeway, King Soopers, City Market and Albertson's.

Last year's bitter and disruptive strike at Denver-area grocery stores proved that Local 7 is still a formidable labor force in Colorado. Yet today the union finds itself in an unusually vulnerable position--particularly with regard to its finances. Although the union's strike fund is adequate, sources say that Local 7's general fund is about dry.

Much of that is due directly to recent labor disputes. A series of prolonged strikes last year cost the labor organization hundreds of thousands of dollars in dues. The 44-day King Soopers/Safeway walkout had barely been settled last summer, for instance, when it was followed almost immediately by another costly work stoppage in Grand Junction.

And both of those actions were preceded by a little-reported but unusually expensive strike in Rock Springs, Wyoming, where twelve union members walked out of the local Albertson's in October 1994. Thanks to a union-provided RV and expense accounts at local eateries, sources say, the strike cost Local 7 more than $1 million before it finally ended in early 1996.

Strikes are the price of a union's business. But in the past few years Local 7 has been forced to pay some extra expenses as well. In 1989, two former workers, Linda Coughlin and Ron Bush, sued the local UFCW. Both had been sacked following a divisive internal political campaign during which they supported the losing candidate for president. Such retribution is a violation of federal law, and in 1991 Coughlin won her lawsuit; Local 7 was assessed more than a half-million dollars in damages. Bush later settled his suit for a reported $80,000, also siphoned from the union's treasury.  

Another factor contributing to the union's reported cash shortage is that Local 7 has seen more than its share of questionable money-managing of late. In the past five years, according to court documents, a half-dozen staffers have been canned for misuse of union-provided credit cards and gas allowances.

In one instance, an organizer submitted a $4,000 bill to cover the cost of a picnic thrown for potential members during a campaign on the Western Slope. Upon closer inspection, three separate sources say, the event's "caterer" was found to be the staff organizer's neighbor--who put together the banquet with donated food. The money was never recovered; the organizer was fired but later reinstated.

In the past UFCW has relied on its massive membership to pay the union's day-to-day expenses. Dues for the union average a hefty $10 per week per worker. Yet Local 7's operating expenses are equal to the considerable income.

One reason is that the union's officers are probably among the best-compensated of any local in the country. President Gary Hakes, who took office in early 1995, earns about $90,000 a year; other officers earn anywhere from $75,000 to $85,000.

Even staff organizers and business agents are extremely well-paid. They earn from $50,000 to $75,000 per year for their efforts to round up, and then represent, new Local 7 members across the state--most of whom work for one-third that money. And those figures don't even include the generous perks enjoyed by the union's officers, such as UFCW-owned vehicles, expense accounts and well-worn credit cards slipped out of wallets to wine and dine potential members during endless organizing campaigns.

As the summer approaches, Local 7's membership will probably rise; that's when grocery stores hire temporary workers for the busy season. Yet Local 7's core membership rolls are far more precarious. By that measurement, the organization appears to be slipping badly.

In 1994, after a ten-year back-and-forth battle for the souls of workers at Greeley's Monfort beef plant, Local 7 finally prevailed. In a well-publicized victory for organized labor, the union certified nearly 2,500 new members and signed a contract with the meat-packing company.

The triumph was extremely short-lived, however. Thanks to what members say was lousy representation and an unsatisfactory contract, three months ago the Monfort workers quietly voted to bail out of Local 7 and join another newly formed UFCW branch, Local 990, in Greeley. At the same time, about 700 workers at Longmont Foods did the same thing.

When combined with Local 7's historically nasty internal politics and an ongoing investigation of irregularities by UFCW's international office, the field failures have contributed to a widespread morale problem inside the union local's Wheat Ridge headquarters. The attitude problem is not new, and several years ago Local 7 formed a morale committee to address it. Yet even that effort seems to have become infected with cynicism.

"The few people who have joined the morale committee deserve the thanks of us all for their hard work," Tim Coughlin, Local 7's then-secretary/treasurer informed staffers in an internal memo in the fall of 1992. But as for the rest of the staff, he scolded, "if you want to become part of the solution, get on board. Everyone enjoys good wages, benefits and working conditions. I've seen better morale at McDonald's.

"If your morale is so low and you are so dissatisfied with your job, maybe you should think of moving on to where your talents would be better appreciated. All I'm saying is--'get with the program,' 'get involved,' 'do your job,' 'stop the b___ sh__.'"

Unions in this country have had a history of rough-and-tumble politics, aggressive rhetoric and, at times, outright violence. Local 7 seems to have been more than willing to mold itself into that profile. According to interviews and public documents, violence and threats of violence among members have been commonplace.

"You were always getting threatened to be beat up or killed," recalls Steve Maloney, a former union officer. Maloney himself was arrested at the union hall in 1995 after being charged with making harassing phone calls. After spending three days in jail, he went to trial that December and was found innocent.  

Today Maloney, who says he is writing a book on the vicious internal politics of Local 7, is in hiding because of what he says are all-too-believable threats to his life after he began exposing mismanagement in Local 7. He owns a handgun and a Rottweiler, both of which he says he acquired after receiving nine separate death threats over the past several years.

Maloney isn't alone in being the target of physical violence through his association with the union. In the spring of 1990, Joe Drexler, a Local 7 staffer, and Tim Coughlin, an organizing officer at the time, exchanged words at the union's Wheat Ridge offices. "Joe don't like me; I am not fond of Joe," Coughlin recalled in a recent court deposition.

Coughlin continued his recollection: "I was running an organizing meeting. Joe was required to attend all organizing meetings. And on his way out of the meeting, he made some comment--'another enlightening meeting'--in a sarcastic way, as Joe can be. I asked him what his problem was. He called me, 'You are a son of a bitch,' or something like that. And I said, 'Well, let's go outside, Joe, and we will finish this one way or another.'"

The fight was quickly broken up. Unsatisfied, Coughlin told Drexler to meet him at Peaches, a bar across the street from the union's offices. Drexler didn't show up, but it bought him only a few days' grace. Three days later Coughlin caught up with him at the union's offices, kicked his knee, broke his fibula and punched him in the face, according to a court deposition by Drexler.

Such behavior, if not encouraged by the union, seems not to have been taken very seriously. Both men were suspended from work for a day. And while each was charged by the City of Wheat Ridge, Coughlin was represented in court by the union's lawyer, Ernest Duran.

In fact, Duran kept a close watch on the budding altercation, and on the night that Coughlin went to Peaches hoping to fight Drexler, he didn't go alone. The deposition, in which a lawyer questions Coughlin about his fight with Drexler, continues:

"Did you bring anyone with you to the fight?"
"Ernie went with me."
"Why did you ask Ernie to go with you?"

"I didn't really ask him. I mean, Ernie is kind of a--not a brawler, don't get me wrong. He is just interested in whatever. And he thought...I think he was just interested in being an observer."

Reached at his union office, Duran declined to comment for this story. But according to court documents and sources, over the years he has been interested in much more than simply observing incidents of physical intimidation. Indeed, if any one person represents the masculine prototype at Local 7, it appears to be Ernest Duran.

A general counsel at Local 7 since the early 1980s, Duran was elected president of the union in 1991. He didn't run for re-election after his term was up in 1994; however, he still runs the union's legal department as director of legal affairs. Insiders say he retains a good deal of control over day-to-day operations of Local 7, and it is widely believed that he plans to run for president in the next election, this October.

An avid boxing fan, Duran has decorated the union office with a heavy bag, which is used by boxers to practice hard body punches. In 1994, as part of Local 7's effort to organize the Monfort workers, Duran spent a reported $10,000 to fly the famous boxer Roberto Duran into Greeley. Although explained as a celebrity organizing tool, the boxer also is an idol of the union president, sources say.

Ernest Duran has not been shy about using his fists, either. Three separate former and current union members recall one 1988 incident that occurred while Duran and several other union officials were traveling back to Denver from an organizing meeting in Sterling.

While driving west, these sources say, Duran spotted a car being driven by Drexler. He pulled up even with Drexler and motioned to him to pull over. Duran got out of his car, threw Drexler up against his vehicle, punched him and reportedly said, "I ought to beat the shit out of you."

In another affidavit filed eighteen months ago in connection with a federal court case, Duran himself wrote: "After a meeting with the King Soopers' employees in Greeley, David Savage approached me in the hallway outside the meeting hall and shook his finger in my face in an angry manner. I told him to get his finger out of my face and that if he wanted to get in my face, we should go outside. He backed off when I made that statement."  

And in May 1992, one of Duran's Arvada neighbors requested, and won, a restraining order against Duran after he "climb[ed] over a six-foot privacy fence to attack and beat plaintiff in plaintiff's backyard." Although the neighbor declines to discuss the incident, one source says the fight began when the neighbor refused to stop mowing his lawn while Duran hosted a backyard party for his daughter.

The violence practiced by the union's leaders appears to have been infectious. "I have never worked in a place where violence was a problem with the women," says Linda Coughlin, who married former union secretary-treasurer Tim Coughlin three years ago. "Except at Local 7."

As the results of a union election were read during a meeting on December 8, 1988, according to court depositions, two women approached a third, named Maria Kaiser. They "challenged me to a physical fight," Kaiser recalled in the court document. "I tried to pull back from them, only to be told...not to 'point your finger at my daughter, bitch.' Linda [Coughlin] then put her hand on my left shoulder and asked them to leave me alone."

A brief melee involving the four women was broken up. But, Kaiser writes, "I am unaware of either [of the two assaulting women] receiving any union discipline for this verbal and physical attack."

The macho mantle worn by Local 7's leaders appears to have surfaced in other ways as well. Maloney says union leaders routinely brought drunk women back into Local 7's offices late in the evening for sex. "It was like a brothel," he says. "They liked their reputations as studs."

Rumors and reports of union officers having sex in the Wheat Ridge office, in its parking lot and at each other's houses are legion among members. Such an atmosphere was, if anything, heightened on the road. "There was an unwritten rule," recalls Maloney. "Anything that happens away from the office stays away from the office."

The hot tub incident in Alamosa in early 1993 was typical, says Linda Coughlin.

"Several of [the City Market workers] told me afterward that they were afraid to come to organizing meetings because they were drunken orgies," says Linda Coughlin, who worked on the campaign. In a court affidavit, she recalled that following the losing election, one grocery worker confided to her the reason many workers voted to shoot down Local 7: "The people in the store said that kind of conduct they don't need. Those kind of people they don't need."

The result of all the high-level misbehavior, says Maloney, was a climate in Local 7 that anything goes. "If that's how the big dogs act," he points out, "how do you expect the little dogs to act?"

Local 7's atmosphere of machismo appears to have seeped into its day-to-day operations. "If you aren't a good ol' boy or a party girl, then you're out," says Linda Coughlin, who knows firsthand.

Today, Coughlin, a petite, dark-haired woman, lives in the foothills outside of Denver with her husband, Tim. Linda says she still believes strongly in what unions stand for. It wasn't always that way, though.

In 1980, after a childhood traveling around the country as a military brat and eventually settling in Denver, trying college and quitting to raise a daughter and working a series of low-paying jobs to try to make ends meet, Linda applied to Albertson's for the most mundane of reasons. "I'm one of those people who loves to grocery shop," she recalls. "My husband tries to hustle me though the store, but I just love to look at the food."

She was less certain about the union. In fact, when she joined Albertson's as a part-time courtesy clerk, Linda found herself resenting Local 7. "After they took out the initiation fee to join Local 7 and then dues, I occasionally found myself working for a paycheck of zero," she recalls. "And I began to ask, 'What do I get for this?'

"I was not pro-union. I did not understand the union."
Comprehension came about a year later. Linda had been promoted to the bakery and, although she was scheduled for five-hour shifts, it didn't take her long to find out that she was expected to accomplish more than that time would allow.

She recalls: "My boss would come over to me and say, 'You have to get your work done--without overtime.' And I would ask him, 'Are you telling me I have to work off the clock?' He said, 'Just get your work done, or you'll be out of a job.' So at some point I told some of my colleagues, 'I'm going to call that damn union and find out what they're doing for me.'"  

Word leaked back to her manager, and Linda says that the following day he approached her to apologize and suggest that filing a union grievance was not necessary--she could work at her own pace. "And that's when I thought, 'You know, the union must mean something, because he's awfully afraid,'" she recalls.

Linda's involvement in organized labor deepened. In 1983 grocery workers in Grand Junction went on strike. At Linda's Albertson's store, the union president came in and asked the workers to walk out in support of the work stoppage on the Western Slope. Linda hesitated. "I looked next to me, and the clerk there was crying," she recalls. "She was worried that she'd lose her job.

"I looked at her, and then I turned around and told my next customer, 'You're the last one of the day.' And I shut off my light. And then the clerk next to me shut off her light, and so on down the checking line. We closed down the store."

Linda was soon voted union steward of the Albertson's store at 80th and Wadsworth. She worked the night shift; during the day she began participating in negotiations and volunteering to help organize other stores, particularly the Albertson's stores on the outer fringes of Denver that were springing up but staying non-union. Personable, attractive, committed--and wearing an Albertson's uniform--Linda was welcomed into Local 7's organizing machine. The work was time-consuming, and successes came one employee at a time.

"We would drive to the grocery workers' homes and knock on their doors," she recalls. "And I'd say, 'Hi, my name is Linda. I work at Albertson's, and this is the union representative--could we just chat for a minute?'" Thanks to her efforts, she says, Local 7 won new Albertson's stores on 72nd and Pierce, 92nd and Sheridan, and on 120th.

"I loved it," she says. "I was a natural at it."
In 1986 her Albertson's store closed, so Linda was hired as a temporary full-time union organizer--the first woman to hold the position, she says. After watching several less experienced men get hired as permanent organizers over her, however, she threatened to file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

As a result of that threat, Linda says she eventually was hired on a permanent basis. But she soon discovered that she was earning several hundred dollars less per week than her male colleagues doing the same work. In 1989, after getting fired for supporting the losing candidate for union president, she sued Local 7, alleging sex discrimination; she also claimed that then-president Charlie Mercer had retaliated against her for her dissent.

In August 1991, after a seven-day trial, a jury backed Linda's version of events. Local 7 and Mercer were ordered to pay her $566,000 in back wages and emotional and punitive damages. In addition, Local 7 agreed to hire her back as its Equal Employment Opportunity Commission liaison officer and, for a time, its organizing director.

The reunion didn't last long. In October 1993 she was fired again, allegedly for distributing internal union documents to non-members. Within months, Linda sued again. That case, which once again charges the union--and Ernest Duran--with sexual discrimination, retaliation and harassment, began this past Monday in U.S. District Court.

In opening arguments, Local 7's attorney painted a picture of Coughlin as a woman who, far from being an innocent victim of brutal union politics, willingly placed herself in the thick of the sniping and threats. Coughlin, the union lawyer added, was fired for poor performance and for violating the rules.

When combined, the attitude of Local 7's leaders and the treatment of women as lesser employees appears to have had predictable consequences. "When I was working as EEOC officer, I handled at least a dozen sexual-harassment complaints," Coughlin says.

One woman who applied for a job was asked by a union officer what she was willing to do to get the work, she recalls. Another turned in a member of the executive board for touching and kissing her. Other women complained that they had been called lesbians, bitches and crybabies. Coughlin claims in her current lawsuit that when such incidents were brought to union officials' attention, it was she and the complainants--not their alleged male harassers--who suffered retribution from Local 7's leaders.

Coughlin filed one of the complaints herself. It concerned the Alamosa hot tub incident involving Padilla, which Coughlin felt was inappropriate behavior for a union representative. She says she informed union leaders of the incident.

In many ways, Padilla's life story reads like that of a model union member. The second of two children, Padilla was born in Leadville in 1950. His father died in a mining accident when Gilbert was just three. Devastated, the family moved briefly to New Mexico before returning to Center, Colorado, 25 miles northwest of Alamosa.  

In the summer of 1968 Padilla began working as a grocery clerk at a store called Arapahoe Grocery in Monte Vista. That fall he decided against returning to school as a high-school senior so he could keep bringing home income. In 1972 he quit and hired on with Safeway, where he stayed for the next 25 years. Later, one of his sons joined him at the store.

Throughout his employment at Safeway, where he moved up the ladder to become a manager, Padilla had been a staunch union member. He worked on several organizing campaigns. In 1991, partly as a result of his vocal support of Ernest Duran's candidacy for union president, he was elected to one of Local 7's 25 vice-president positions, an oversight group roughly equivalent to a corporation's board of directors. He and Duran also were considered friends.

In a quarter-century of work at Safeway, Padilla had only one negative blot on his written record, an incident involving an argument with a fellow employee. The man had threatened to kill Padilla, then shoved him. Later that day, Padilla returned to the store with his son, who beat the man while Padilla watched. He was fired for the incident but subsequently rehired after filing a grievance through Local 7.

Despite his relatively clean record, though, Padilla had acquired a reputation among union members--and particularly women--as a person with a temper. "He would just--if something wasn't going his way on the board, if he would get up to express himself, he would get real angry and start shaking," Cathy Capra, a fellow member of Local 7's executive board recalled in a court affidavit filed recently.

Padilla also was known by some union members as a grabber--someone who, after a few drinks, appeared to not always be able to control his sexual impulses. A few minor incidents had occurred through the years, although none were reported formally until later. Others were more serious.

"Once, when we went to labor school in Las Vegas," Capra recalled in a 1994 court document, "he had tried to get me to go to his room with him, and he said he had a bottle of whiskey...I said, 'No, thank you,' and I remember he just kept pulling on me; we were all walking together, and he kept pulling on my arm trying to keep me back from everyone else."

In 1991 Padilla's behavior apparently became more threatening. In a conversation with an Alamosa County sheriff's deputy, Capra recalled an unnerving incident that occurred in October of that year. After retiring to a Wheat Ridge bar for a round of margaritas following a late union meeting, Capra drove Padilla and another woman friend back to their cars in the union's parking lot.

The woman got out of Capra's vehicle, a Bronco II, and started walking toward her car. Padilla stepped out of Capra's car, then climbed back into the front seat. In the interview, conducted in late 1994, Capra recalled what happened next:

"I said, 'What are you doing?' And he said, 'Oh, I just want to talk to you,' and I told him 'Gilbert, I have got to go home.' And, you know, I don't remember exactly what happened. It was a long time ago. I just remember that he kept talking to me, he just kept asking me to kiss him and all this stuff. And I said, 'Gilbert, I think that you have had too much to drink. I think you should go home.' But, it was a real situation, because he started, I don't know, he got me around the neck. I remember that he got me around the neck. It was like he was pushing my head back. And the next day I had bruises on my neck."

Capra said she told her union business agent about the incident but declined to file a police report. The reason, she explained, was that when she asked another woman and Local 7 member who'd allegedly been harassed by Padilla to file a joint report, the other woman declined. "I would have [told the police]," Capra recalled. "But I would have been the only one."

Still, by the time that Padilla was called upon to help Linda Coughlin with the 1993 Alamosa City Market campaign, his reputation was set. "I would not allow Gilbert to house-call alone," Coughlin recalled in a recent court statement. "I would go on home calls with him, because I was afraid of his behavior. I felt he was--I felt he was dangerous. I did not feel that he should be left alone with potential members."  

After the hot tub incident, Coughlin added, she notified union officials that Padilla should not be allowed to represent the union as an organizer ever again. "I warned them that I thought he was a time bomb. And they promised me that they'd never bring him out again," she recalls. (In a February 1996 affidavit, one of those officials, Tom Hunt, Local 7's personnel officer, disputes that. "Linda never informed me that Gilbert Padilla had engaged in improper conduct and that we should not use his services in the future," he claimed.) In October 1993 Linda was fired as the union's organizing director.

In early 1994 the union was preparing for its second Alamosa City Market campaign. One of the organizers it called upon was Gilbert Padilla.

On January 10, 1994, Steve Maloney says, he was hanging out at the union hall. He says he recalls the day clearly.

"I was always at the union hall--part of the woodwork, doing what I could," he says. "So I was wandering the halls. I went and got a cup of coffee on the fourth floor, and I heard [President] Ernie Duran, Gilbert Padilla and [business agent] Steve Trujillo talking. And Steve said, 'You know, we need some party girls down in Alamosa.' Gilbert said, 'Yeah, I want you to send [name of a Local 7 secretary].'

"And Ernie said, 'Okay.'"
So far, Maloney is the only person who says he heard the conversation. But what is undisputed is that, the following month, Local 7 dispatched a twenty-year-old woman with no organizing experience to help with what promised to be a difficult campaign.

Linda Coughlin says that when she later heard about the assignment, she was appalled. "If they would have told me I had to take her and put her on that program, I would've had a fit," she says. "She's young and enthusiastic. But she had zip qualifications. Zero. Nothing."

"On April 5, 1994, at approximately 1415 hours, I was contacted by phone in reference to a sexual-assault offense that occurred at the Holiday Inn, in Alamosa County," Officer Lane Hall of the Alamosa County Sheriff's Department wrote in his log. "The victim and reporting party was very hesitant and reluctant to offer her name prior to being advised what her rights were. It appeared that she was frightened and confused, unsure of what to do. At this time she gave me her name and gave me a brief summary of what had happened at the Holiday Inn."

According to police reports and statements from witnesses and the young woman herself, at about 6:30 p.m. on February 17, the woman had arrived at the Alamosa Holiday Inn. For the next three and a half hours, she and three other members of the Local 7 City Market organizing team, including Gilbert Padilla, held meetings.

At 10 p.m. they retired to Filly's, the Holiday Inn bar, to discuss union strategy. Another person at the table later reported that, while the young woman and Padilla were sitting next to each other, they did not appear to be acting as a couple. At 1:30 a.m., following last call, Padilla picked up the woman's room key from the table and informed her that he needed to talk to her, the woman later reported.

Once in the room, the police report stated, "Gilbert forced her up against a dresser and pinned her there in a standing position... Gilbert then began making 'sick comments,' [such as] 'I love you, I know you want me, fuck my kids, fuck my family, make love to me now.' She said she kept trying to get Gilbert to leave but he wouldn't. Instead, Gilbert forced her to the bed and positioned himself on top of her, holding her down."

As the struggle continued, according to the woman's statement, Padilla used both his hands and legs to remove the woman's pants. Even though she was rolling from side to side in an effort to prevent penetration, he managed to enter her. Several minutes later, the woman reported, Padilla got off her, went to the restroom, returned and asked her where his room keys were. Then he left.

"She was very afraid and confused on what to do after Gilbert had departed," Hall wrote in his report. "She stated that she just sat on a corner of the bed waiting for morning."

The following morning the Local 7 organizing crew met for breakfast. A female member later remembered that "Gilbert looked real tense, real drawn, exhausted. I put it off to, 'Here we have a married man who probably went home late.' I was married one time. I remember I could chew butt."

The young woman assaulted by Padilla no longer works for the union, although her father remains a member. Her attorney in the case, Tom Helms, declines to allow her to be interviewed for this story. Gilbert Padilla's home phone number is unlisted at his request. At last report, he was working for Albertson's in Pueblo, but a manager there says Padilla no longer has that job.  

Four days after the assault, Padilla was interviewed by his supervisor, Steve Trujillo, who is also a close friend. During that interview, according to a transcript, Trujillo reported that Padilla "was very nervous...he repeated himself a few times, at first he kept denying that anything happened at all." Padilla also claimed that the woman had come on to him and that he had tried to resist her advances.

But in May 1994, the month after the woman reported the incident to the Alamosa sheriff's department, Padilla was removed as one of Local 7's vice presidents. In June 1995 he pleaded guilty to third-degree sexual assault.

Two months later he was sentenced to ninety days in jail, three years of probation, 200 hours of community service, participation in a sexual-offenders treatment program and instructed to pay $1,450 in restitution to the victim. Although Safeway fired him that fall for fear that bad publicity from the case would hurt the store (Local 7 represented Padilla in an unsuccessful grievance of the dismissal), Padilla did receive some community support.

"I personally think he is innocent of wrongdoing," the Reverend Gary Kennedy, of Monte Vista Church, wrote of Padilla. In his own pre-sentence interview, Padilla "stated that 'coping' has been difficult for his family, however, that they have been supportive throughout the process." He also said that he had been attending church daily.

Local 7's treatment of the young woman whom Padilla assaulted is unclear. Two sources say that news of the incident was kept from Local 7's executive board for several months and that after Local 7 officials learned of the attack, the woman was promised a job with the union for as long as she wanted it .

In February 1996 the woman filed a civil lawsuit against Local 7 and Gilbert Padilla in U.S. District Court. Eight months later Ernest Duran was added as a third defendant because, the woman charged, "Mr. Padilla's sexual misconduct was well-known" to him and because "Duran not only refused to discipline or terminate Mr. Padilla, but actually encouraged this type of behavior."

Although Local 7 had agreed to cover Duran's legal costs in the second Linda Coughlin sex-discrimination lawsuit, sources say the union declined to cover the former president's expenses in the sex-assault civil suit. That case is scheduled for trial in January 1998.

Linda Coughlin says that, considering the environment in which Local 7 operated, she wasn't the least bit surprised by news of the Alamosa assault. "Violence breeds violence," she says. "When leaders are pushing people around and treating women badly, something like this is bound to happen."

Still, she adds, it did make her glad that she pushed her current lawsuit against the union. "When I heard that this woman got raped, I cried and cried and cried," she says. "But I knew that I had done the right thing. And that Local 7 didn't.

"I still believe in what the union preaches. I don't believe in what they practice.

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