SEIU Texas: Out of Service
By Olivia Grady
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Texas or SEIU Local 5 began organizing janitors in Houston about 10 years ago in order to expand its membership and was successful with five businesses. Professional Janitorial Service of Houston, Inc. (PJS) however refused in 2006 to recognize the union unless more than half of its employees voted for the union in a secret-ballot election.
PJS claimed that the union was lying to its employees and aggressively pressuring them to sign cards saying they wanted to be unionized. The union in response used its connections with politicians and pension funds to contact building owners to ask them to stop doing business with PJS.
The union also filed 19 charges of labor law violations, including wage and overtime violations and firings for union activity, with federal regulators and published the accusations on pamphlets for the community.
PJS then sued SEIU Texas in 2007 for defamation in the Harris County District Court, which includes Houston, Texas. The company alleged it lost business accounts.
PJS President Floyd Mahaney explained why his company sued, “The SEIU came to Houston to intimidate PJS and extort payments from our employees—neither of which will ever succeed. PJS will now make them pay for their lies to our customers.”
In September 2016, a jury found that SEIU Texas had lied to federal regulators and the community by saying that PJS had engaged in unfair business practices. The jury ordered the union to pay more than $5 million to the janitorial company.
SEIU Texas plans to appeal the judgment, arguing that its actions were lawful under labor laws and the First Amendment.
The SEIU further responded to the ruling in a release, claiming that workers would be less likely to unionize due to this decision:
“We will argue that the judgment against Local 5 must be overturned because, among other things, it violates the free speech rights of workers and their advocates throughout Texas. While this lawsuit slowly works its way through the courts, we will continue to form unions in Houston workplaces and we will continue work to improve the lives of all low-wage workers in Houston.”
It also said that the ruling would cause “substantial economic harm” to the union.
Harris County District Court Judge Erin Elizabeth Lunceford on September 26 ordered that the union pay $2.5 million in addition in interest because the lawsuit lasted almost a decade. The total judgment increased to $7.8 million.
The union claims it doesn’t have the money to pay the judgment even though it collected over $4.6 million in revenue from dues in 2015.
On December 3, 2016, SEIU Texas filed for bankruptcy at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Corpus Christi, Texas. The President of SEIU Texas, Elsa Caballero, released a statement on December 5 regarding the bankruptcy action:
“This filing ensures that our union will remain open for business, representing members at the bargaining table and maintaining the vital role the union plays in helping working Houstonians have a voice at work, protecting them from unfair employers, and building a better future for their families.”
The union has 18,000 members across Texas.
The appeals court will hopefully affirm the lower court’s decision and limit the exclusion that unions enjoy from harassment laws and other violent behavior. For example, the 1973 Supreme Court case U.S. v. Enmons held that the anti-racketeering Hobbs Act does not cover union violence to achieve union objectives.
Unions have been pushing people around forever. Nice to see them getting pushed back.