By  on March 16, 2009

WASHINGTON — In the latest salvo in the battle between two factions of UNITE HERE, the union’s general executive board voted Friday to revoke the charters of the 15 joint boards that voted to disaffiliate, recover all property of the joint boards and take immediate legal action against their managers.

The general executive board, largely controlled by John Wilhelm, president of UNITE HERE’s hospitality division and head of the HERE faction, voted to move against the 15 joint boards that want to split up the union. Forty-two of the 63 members who were present approved the action, a HERE spokesman said.

“An overwhelming majority of our union continues to believe that maintaining our unity as one union continues to be in the best interests of our members,” the board said.

The breakaway group of UNITE HERE claims to represent about 150,000 of the 400,000 members of the union that serves workers in the apparel, textile, hotel and gaming industries. Three joint board managers — from New York, Philadelphia and a Western States regional — said Thursday they were seeking to form a new organization and considering a relationship with the Service Employees International Union.

The executive board is threatening to file a lawsuit, “with personal liability at stake” against the joint board managers who used union funds to pursue the disaffiliation votes. It authorized Wilhelm to negotiate with the AFL-CIO for the reaffiliation of UNITE HERE and to disaffiliate from Change to Win because of what the board said was “brazen interference in UNITE HERE’s affairs” by the Service Employees International Union, which led the Change to Win group of unions that broke away from the AFL-CIO in 2005.

Wilhelm has been in a power struggle with Bruce Raynor, general president of UNITE HERE, who leads the efforts to separate the UNITE faction and end the five-year-old merger. Raynor has accused Wilhelm of misusing resources and usurping his power. Wilhelm has denied those allegations and said Raynor’s actions and those of the joint boards are illegal and in violation of the union’s constitution.

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