Ernie Duran takes on Channel 7 in PR war

Ernie Duran Jr., president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, is in a fight for job survival. Although his re-election campaign was unsuccessful, he and his supporters (many of them family members with prominent UFCW jobs) are challenging the results of the vote, claiming, among many other things, that opponents defamed him and engaged in vote buying. At the same time, the Durans are pushing back against a Channel 7 report aired earlier this month in which the family was accused of nepotism and abusing expense privileges.

Duran's combativeness should come as no surprise to readers of two late '90s reports by former Westword staffer Eric Dexheimer. The articles told the tale of a young UFCW worker who was sexually assaulted by her boss, Gilbert Padilla; afterward, she filed a civil lawsuit pinning part of the blame for the attack on Local 7. May 1997's "An Unholy Union" notes that Duran is a boxing aficionado who kept a heavy bag in his office and, according to several sources, once threw a man against a car and threatened to "beat the shit" out of him. He was also the target of a May 1992 restraining order granted to one of his neighbors after he allegedly "climb[ed] over a six-foot privacy fence to attack and beat plaintiff in plaintiff's backyard." Dexheimer's followup piece, February 1998's "Union Busted," confirms that the assaulted woman settled her lawsuit for a lump sum payment of $200,000.

Look below to read an e-mail that disputes many of the findings in the Channel 7 report.

What Channel 7 Interview Did Not Tell You

We are in the process of challenging the recent union election. Less than 13% of members voted and it was a very close race. Further, there are numerous allegations of election rule violations. We intend on appealing the decision to the International Union and the Department of Labor, if necessary. If you didn't receive a ballot or have information about the defamatory allegations made against Local 7, please call 1.800.854.7054.

Channel 7

The union election is what is behind the defamatory accusations made on Channel 7 - they are purely political, and they are not supported by the facts. Although President Duran gave John Ferrugia, Channel 7 reporter, four dates and times that he could meet in a professional setting, he was instead ambushed by him in the union parking lot.

The accusations are intended to negatively impact grocery negotiations and the 17,000 members and the families counting on a fair contract, and give these highly-profitable, multi-billion dollar corporations an upper hand. We ran a clean campaign in the union election, to not distract from the current negotiations. Ironically, the corporations are now telling workers to view the Channel 7 interview -- because they do not want workers to get a fair deal at the bargaining table.

Truth about union expenses

The Channel 7 interview alleges that union funds were used for personal use. This is an outright lie. If this were the truth, the Department of Labor would have filed criminal charges against the leadership of Local 7 and President Duran would be in jail.

Furthermore, all expenses and travel are approved by the Executive Board and subsequently voted on and approved by the membership at their monthly membership meetings. All salaries are voted on by the Executive Board and voted on and approved by the membership at their monthly membership meetings.

There are individuals who serve on the Executive Board who approved all of the financial expenses of Local 7 in the past three years and never raised any questions or objections to these charges. Ironically, now that they ran on the other slate -- there are false allegations as to how and why funds were spent.

Department of Labor Investigation

The same individuals who ran in the union election made the same false allegations to the International Union and the Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL sent federal investigators to investigate these allegations. The United States Department of Labor, Office of Labor Management Standards (OLMS) completed a cap audit of United Food & Commercial Workers Local (UFCW) Local 7. They occupied offices in the Union hall for several months. They reviewed financial records dated back to 2006.

The audit concluded on June 29, 2009, and the final results of that audit will be released by the DOL when it deems it appropriate. However, we had our exit interview with the federal government on June 29, 2009. The DOL found: no money was missing; all Union expenditures were properly accounted for; contrary to the false statements, union funds were not used for personal use; and nobody on staff, stole any money from the Union. Had the DOL found such conduct, criminal charges would have been brought and rightly so.

In the July 29 exit interview, the audit noted minor technical violations for not filing a copy of the current union bylaws with OLMS and making minor errors on the LM-2 report. UFCW Local 7 will update our procedures to comply both with the OLMS requirements and has already submitted the revised LM-2 and current bylaws.

The OLMS made a number of suggestions that UFCW Local 7 will implement in order to improve the quality of record keeping and to make a future audit even easier. These include education of staff about record keeping requirements and changing the current method of inventory of materials.

Termination of Kim Cordova, Irene Goodell and Kevin Schneider

Unless former employees sign a release to allow Local 7 to release their records, there is no way for the media to independently verify what they tell them. Local 7 asked Kim Cordova to sign a release to communicate to the membership why she was terminated. She refused to do so. Local 7 made the same offer to Irene Goodell and Kevin Schneider, through John Ferrugia, the Channel 7 reporter. Until they release such information, Local 7 cannot release confidential personnel information without the employee's permission. Needless to say, the reasons for the terminations alleged in the interview were false.

Every member of Local 7 staff is protected under a union contract. As such, there must be "just cause" to discipline or terminate employees. Employees who feel that they are wrongfully terminated have the right to go through the grievance procedure which is decided by an independent arbitrator.

Kim Cordova asked for $350,000 of membership money to not run for President and to settle her wrongful termination suit.

At a monthly membership money, Kim Cordova asked for $350,000 to not run for President and to settle her wrongful termination suit. Needless to say, Local 7 leadership was not interested in preventing Kim Cordova from running for President for $350,000 of union dues. Channel 7 did not report this information.

Further, Kim Cordova used union funds for legitimate business meetings -- where she purchased Starbucks coffee. Ironically, Channel 7 attacked the use of union funds for Starbucks coffee when Ernie Duran III did this.

Truth about my salary & nepotism

We informed John Ferrugia his salary figures were incorrect for me for 2008 and 2009. Our accountant reviewed the issue and I was paid $71,510.54 in 2008. This year, I gave up almost 1/3 of my salary to dedicate to the workers' struggle in negotiations, since the Safeway Meat Warehouse voted to strike back in May.

John Ferrugia did not report that the woman who sought the Secretary-Treasurer position on the other slate has her son working at Local 7 as a Union Representative upon her request. Further, there are three pairs of family members on Kim Cordova's slate that ran for Executive Board.

John Ferrugia also did not report that President Duran's daughter, Caroll, and Son-In-Law, were temporary help to do clerical work and help with the demands of negotiations. Caroll is a schoolteacher. In 2008, she made a whopping total of $145.70 and 2009, she made $3,190.53. In 2008, Alan made $80.00, and in 2009 his grand total was $2,869.29. Numerous rank and file members have also worked in similar positions to help with negotiations.

Any member is entitled to run for office. They are not, however, entitled to defame the organization.