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Fight within SEIU Local 1107 shows no sign of slowing down

Earlier this year, a confrontation involving two high-ranking members of SEIU Local 1107 resulted in police being called to the Las Vegas union hall and led to a protective order against Executive Vice President Sharon Kisling.

Witnesses there on Aug. 17 later reported that Kisling screamed in a union director’s face that he was fired, forced her way into a conference room while chasing him and would not let the director retrieve his personal cellphone and laptop from his office until a police officer arrived on scene and escorted him from the building.

It was not how Peter Nguyen, SEIU’s Director of Organizing and Representation since May, expected to spend his 43rd birthday.

“She engaged in a two-and-a-half-hour reign of terror at our office,” Nguyen said of Kisling last week. “She verbally and physically threatened me to the extent that a board member had to physically put herself between me and Ms. Kisling.”

The union hall incident illustrates a power struggle at the highest levels of SEIU Local 1107 — which represents about 18,000 of Nevada’s government and health-care employees — during a transition from one administration to the next.

Accusations of corruption, collusion and impropriety have divided a group of five executive officers — Kisling, President Cherie Mancini and union trustees Clara Thomas, Alfredo Serrano and Debbie Springer — who Mancini said campaigned together on the same ticket during the union’s at-large 2016 elections.

According to internal union documents provided to the Review-Journal, the following has occurred since the elections on June 30:

■ Two days after the union hall confrontation, Nguyen filed an internal complaint accusing Kisling of harassment and discrimination, among other charges.

■ On Aug. 21, Communications Director Dana Gentry filed a complaint against Kisling with her own allegations of harassment.

Kisling and Thomas filed charges with SEIU’s international executive board accusing Mancini of corruption and recommending she, Serrano and Springer be suspended from office.

Mancini responded with charges that Kisling advocated for the secession of union members at University Medical Center, where the SEIU represents well more than 3,000 employees, and colluded with an organization that is openly campaigning for the dissolution of SEIU at the hospital.

Eleven members of the union’s bargaining team at the medical center, including three executive board officers, filed a written complaint stating they had “lost all confidence” in Mancini after she canceled a contract ratification vote and opened an “unfounded” investigation into bargaining team members. The complaint, sent to SEIU’s international president, demanded the resignation of Mancini, Nguyen and Gentry.

Mancini and Kisling’s charges against each other, and other internal charges, were the subject of a private two-day hearing held the weekend before Halloween. The SEIU’s international executive board convened in Las Vegas to conduct the hearing at Circus Circus.

Mancini said she has not yet received the hearing’s results. SEIU International did not respond to the Review-Journal’s request for comment.

The day after the hearing, Mancini ended SEIU’s $35,000 a month retainer with the Urban Law Firm, which had provided legal services to the union since 2007, according to a former union president. Mancini said last week she believes attorney Michael Urban advised Kisling how to fire Nguyen while Mancini was on vacation in Hawaii.

“She’s trying to take over (the union),” Mancini said. “Since the day she got elected.”

In a brief phone conversation Tuesday, Kisling said the charges against her are unfounded.

“The charges (Mancini) alleged at the hearing were already disproven,” she said.

Kisling had agreed to a phone interview Friday morning, but did not respond to repeated attempts to contact her.

On Sept. 28, a Las Vegas Justice Court judge issued a protective order barring Kisling from contacting Nguyen or stepping foot inside the union hall.

The protective order was suspended a week later to allow Kisling back in the building, but the court is still requiring Kisling and Nguyen not to make direct contact with each other.

A motion hearing for the protective order’s dissolution is scheduled for Monday morning.

PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE SECTOR

Today, former union President Martin Bassick’s October 2015 resignation letter seems prophetic.

Bassick, who ended his term eight months early, wrote he left due to “an unhealthy and often toxic work environment.”

“The deficiencies within the Local’s constitution and bylaws dividing the Local into two divisions of private healthcare and public sector workers have continually caused a merry-go-round effect of appalling infighting thus resulting in an inability to properly self-govern,” he wrote.

Former general counsel Kathryn Collins left the union just days earlier, citing similar reasons in her resignation letter.

“I have had to devote the majority of my time and attention to fighting against factions within our own board and our own staff and our former staff …” she wrote.

By the time Bassick left, all of the director-level senior staff he began with in January 2013 had resigned under his tenure, according to a former union employee interviewed by the Review-Journal at the time.

Mancini, the then-executive vice president, ascended. She claims to be the first private sector employee to take the helm of SEIU Local 1107.

Union members voted Mancini, a St. Rose Dominican Hospital employee and union member since 2004, into another three-year term as president this summer. She defeated Richard Hodgson, a McCarran International Airport employee, by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent.

Now, Mancini said she feels some members of her 40-person executive board want her out because “they are highly upset that a private sector person is now in control.”

“I think there are four or five people that are trying to hold this board hostage,” she said.

But the complaint from Kisling and Thomas claims they and “the majority of members of SEIU Nevada Local 1107’s executive board” see it differently.

“President Mancini has instigated divisiveness between private and public sector members of our executive board,” the complaint states.“President Mancini will not allow herself to be held accountable.”

Kisling and Thomas accuse Mancini of leading the union with an iron fist. They allege she hires and fires union staff without consulting the entire executive board and conducting necessary background checks.

One of those hires was Nguyen, who filed suit in July against a California union that fired him last year.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that Nguyen claims he faced discrimination and harassment for being Asian-American while serving as general manager for Public Employees Union Local 1.

Perhaps Kisling and Thomas’ most incendiary accusation against Mancini claims that she was present when a director told bargaining unit staff to break into the office of an elected official. The complaint did not offer further details.

Mancini called the allegations “baseless.”

She filed her own charges on Oct. 19. In an interview this week, Mancini said Kisling distributed a presidential recall petition on Oct. 12 while using hours from the union’s pool of paid time off, provided to public sector members to conduct union business.

On Friday, Mancini announced she plans to “regularly audit all union paid leave time negotiated with all employers” including time off taken since July 1.

Mancini has also accused Kisling of providing internal union documents to a website promoting UMC-Clark County Public Employees Association, an organization attempting to discredit and decertify SEIU Local 1107.

Despite the apparent dissatisfaction between members of SEIU Nevada’s leadership, Mancini said the union is maintaining healthy finances and membership levels. Last month SEIU moved into a new union hall on Sunset Road.

“We’re getting business done here,” Mancini said. “The (October) drop month was the lowest drop month we’ve had in the history of this local.”

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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