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Unions Reach Settlement in Bitter Battle

UNITE HERE, the Service Employees International Union and Workers United agree on assets and workers representation.

WASHINGTON — UNITE HERE, the Service Employees International Union and Workers United, the main apparel and textile union, have settled a contentious, 18-month dispute that will likely transfer ownership of Amalgamated Bank, the only union-owned bank in the country, to the apparel workers who founded the bank and their union.

But the settlement will cede control of the apparel workers union’s former headquarters on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan to UNITE HERE, the hotel, gaming and food services union. The transfer of ownership of Amalgamated to Workers United must be approved by a federal regulator under the agreement.

The settlement is likely to bring to a close one of the longest, most divisive battles between two unions and resolves all issues related to several outstanding lawsuits over jurisdiction and assets, according to both sides.

UNITE, formerly the Union of Needletrades, Industrial & Textile Employees, and HERE, the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International, which combined in 2004, have been embroiled in a tense power struggle over the breakup of the merged union, representation of workers and millions of dollars in assets. Workers United, led by Bruce Raynor, former general president of UNITE, last year broke away from UNITE HERE and subsequently became an affiliate of the SEIU. Raynor is now an executive vice president of the SEIU and president of Workers United.

The agreement calls for an arbitrator to determine the “rightful bargaining representative” for the remaining disputed workers caught up in the breakup. Elections will also be held in some regions.

“This does mean the dispute is over and the litigation is over,” said Raynor. “The asset that mattered most to our union was the Amalgamated Bank founded in 1923 by the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union.”

Raynor said the bank’s assets are valued at about $4.6 billion, and he estimated the value of the former UNITE headquarters on Seventh Avenue at $75 million.