One of the garment industry’s leading union advocates for 38 years is resigning from the main apparel and textile union that he shepherded through a bitterly divisive union battle amid charges of misusing his expense account.
Bruce Raynor, president of Workers United and executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, tendered his resignation in a letter to SEIU International president Mary Kay Henry on Tuesday. The SEIU said in a statement it had reached a settlement with Raynor in regard to the charges, which it has now withdrawn. Raynor’s resignation is effective May 7.
Raynor was facing charges of financial misconduct filed by the SEIU at the end of March, which he said had accused him of improperly accounting for $2,316 he spent on meals with an SEIU official. His resignation Tuesday came before an independent hearing officer appointed by the union heard the case.
“I strongly believe that the challenged expenditures were appropriate union related expenses for which reimbursement to me was proper,” Raynor said in the letter. “Nevertheless, in order to resolve any doubts regarding those expenditures, I have repaid $2,316.03, the entire amount in dispute.”
“For eight years, I have served as an International president for two predecessor unions prior to our affiliation to SEIU,” Raynor said. “I now feel that there are other ways for me to serve working people rather than continuing my current role in both SEIU and Workers United.”
Raynor was both a strong and divisive figure in the apparel and textile union movement for many years.
Sources with knowledge of the situation said while Raynor was a strong leader first of UNITE, then UNITE HERE and then of Workers’ United, he tended to be headstrong and at times “arrogant,” and that often got in the way of making good decisions and being able to work with people.
Jay Mazur, who retired as the first president of UNITE, which was a merger of the ILGWU and the Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union, of which Raynor was president, said union mergers onto themselves are “very difficult” and Raynor had to manage through three. Mazur, who was president of the ILGWU when it merged in 1995 with the ACTWU, when Raynor was its president, said at the time there were many safeguards and “prenuptials” built in that seemed to be missing when UNITE merged with the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International Union in 2004.
“The bottom line is that he was caught stealing and had to resign,” Mazur said in a phone interview. “Before that, he got caught in a major civil war with the leaders of HERE, and it seems that in the last few years everything that Bruce touched didn’t work out. But you can’t blame him for the decline of the union or American manufacturing. All union membership in the country has been eroding for the last quarter century. He’s been a strong union leader and advocate, but sometimes personalities get in the way.”
Raynor led one of the most contentious battles in history between two unions that eventually led to a breakaway union named Workers United.
UNITE HERE, the SEIU and Workers United, the main textile and apparel union, settled the 18-month dispute last July. UNITE, formerly the Union of Needletrades, Industrial & Textile Employees, and HERE were 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 Raynor, former general president of UNITE, broke away from UNITE HERE and subsequently became an affiliate of the SEIU.
The Workers United executive committee said in a statement that Raynor will continue to serve as chairperson of several union-affiliated national pension and insurance funds, including Amalgamated Life Insurance Co., and remains on the board of the Amalgamated Bank. Raynor will also continue as president of The Sidney Hillman Foundation, which supports and rewards socially conscious journalism. Workers United is said to have 150,000 members in the U.S. and Canada who work in the laundry, food service, hospitality, gaming, apparel, textile, manufacturing and distribution industries.
“During his tenure, Bruce has distinguished himself as a creative, aggressive and strategic organizer,” the Workers United executive committee said. “He has pioneered comprehensive campaigns, starting with the landmark campaign against textile giant J.P. Stevens early in his career. Bruce has also been an unwavering champion of textile and garment workers, keeping alive the memory of the Triangle Shirtwaist workers who perished in the infamous fire 100 years ago.”
Raynor’s landmark organizing victory came in 1973 where he worked on several organizing drives in the South, including the J.P. Stevens and Canon Mills campaigns that organized 10,000 southern textile workers. The J.P Stevens campaign was later portrayed in the movie “Norma Rae.”
He has also handled key union negotiations and formed collective bargaining relationships with companies, including Levi Strauss & Co., Liz Claiborne, T.J. Maxx/Marshall’s, the Hartmarx Group, Xerox, Hilton and Starwood.