NEW YORK — Bruce Raynor and supporters from breakaway union Workers United took to the streets in front of UNITE HERE’s Seventh Avenue headquarters on Wednesday, vowing to fight to keep the building in the hands of garment industry workers and industry retirees.
The building has become a focal point in the ongoing legal battle between Raynor, the suspended general president of UNITE HERE, and John Wilhelm, president of the union’s hospitality division. The Union of Needletrades, Industrial & Textile Employees, or UNITE, and the Hospitality Employees & Restaurant Employees International Union, or HERE, merged in 2004. Disputes over how union finances have been handled have led to lawsuits and the breakup of UNITE HERE into two entities, including the formation of Workers United, which has affiliated with the Service Employees International Union.
Raynor accused Wilhelm of forcing his way into the UNITE HERE building with supporters at about 4 a.m. last Friday and seizing union assets. Wilhelm said his group entered the building to stop the destruction of documents. Over the Memorial Day weekend, Raynor pledged to seek an injunction against Wilhelm but U.S. District Court Judge George Daniels rejected Raynor’s application for an immediate conference on Tuesday.
During Wednesday’s rally, Raynor and Workers United officials decried Wilhelm’s actions as an attempted hostile takeover of the building and union resources. “It pains me greatly to see a so-called trade unionist attempt to steal from workers, but we fought people like this before and we’ll continue to fight them,” said Raynor, who contends the building has been owned by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union since 1946. The ILGWU and the Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union merged in 1994 to form UNITE.
Edgar Romney, president of Workers United, alleged HERE was interested in getting the building, its worker-owned bank and its health center. “It is shocking to be here today after we had entered into what we thought we believed was a relationship and a merger with HERE,” said Romney. “I have to tell you brothers and sisters, they misled us. They fooled us, they tricked us and they lied…we will not let the Wilhelm forces take our building.”
A representative for UNITE HERE said they contend the building is owned by the union. UNITE HERE passed out its own leaflet during the rally showing alleged court excerpts of Workers United’s lawyer acknowledging UNITE HERE’s ownership of the building.
The two sides are next scheduled to go before the court on July 16 in the ongoing battle over assets.