By  on March 13, 2009

WASHINGTON — The breakaway group of UNITE HERE, claiming to represent 150,000 members, is moving to form a separate entity after 15 local boards voted to disaffiliate from the parent union last Saturday, officials said Thursday.

Three joint board managers — from New York, Philadelphia and a Western States regional — said they and other officials representing the local boards that voted to disaffiliate had resigned from the parent union and are holding discussions on forming a new organization.

Edgar Romney, executive vice president of UNITE HERE and manager of the New York area metropolitan joint board, said the HERE faction was unsuccessful in securing a court order to halt the disaffiliation votes last week, which cleared the way for the joint boards to move ahead to break up the union. One option the group is considering is becoming a division of the Service Employees International Union, which has some two million members.

“As far as we’re concerned, what we did was legal and proper, and we’re moving forward,” said Romney.

But a spokeswoman for John Wilhelm, president of UNITE HERE’s hospitality division, who has locked horns in a prolonged power struggle with Bruce Raynor, general president of UNITE HERE and leader of the UNITE faction looking to dissolve the five-year-old merger, said they will continue to pursue legal recourse to keep the union intact.

“I think it is laughable for them to claim that they can move forward from a legal perspective,” the HERE spokeswoman said. “This is far from over, legally.”

She said a hearing has been set for Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan in relation to a lawsuit filed by Wilhelm and the HERE faction. The spokeswoman confirmed a federal judge did not grant the request for a temporary restraining order to stop the disaffiliation votes, but did not comment on the validity of the votes.

UNITE HERE’s general executive board is also slated to meet here today, and Raynor plans to attend, according to a spokesman.

Raynor has contended the HERE faction led by Wilhelm has acted in a fraudulent and deceitful way and hijacked financial resources and exerted undue control over the union. Wilhelm has denied all the allegations and claimed Raynor and the breakaway group of joint boards is violating the international union’s constitution.

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