Officers of UNITE HERE, who are suing to dissolve the merger that created the union, have filed a lawsuit accusing John Wilhelm, president of the hospitality division, of violating their freedom of speech.

This story first appeared in the March 5, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In the latest legal salvo of the union fight, filed on Feb. 23 in Manhattan federal court, the 15 plaintiffs allege that Wilhelm threatened them with unspecified disciplinary charges for their participation in the litigation seeking to break-up UNITE HERE. In addition, they charged that Wilhelm has undertaken a campaign within the union to suppress their dissent.

The plaintiffs were part of a 25-member minority on the union’s general executive board that voted in January to dissolve the 2004 merger of the former Union of Needletrades, Industrial & Textile Employees (UNITE) and the larger Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International (HERE). Thirty-nine board members voted against the resolution and in support of remaining unified.

Wilhelm opposes the break-up effort that is being spearheaded by Bruce Raynor, general president of UNITE HERE, who contends Wilhelm of squandering resources and failing to adequately boost membership. Wilhelm has said the effort to split the union is undemocratic.

The breakaway group is seeking an injunction against Wilhelm and his allies from interfering with their speech rights and unspecified damages.

The faction led by Raynor has brought a total of three actions in Manhattan federal court. In addition to their desire for a dissolution, UNITE backers accused the Wilhelm-led HERE division of acting deceitfully and hijacking financial resources.

This week, HERE published a counterpoint to many of UNITE’s allegations and revealed that it filed its own lawsuit in New Jersey last week in a move to block local chapters from ending their affiliations with the union.

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