by Nick Cooper
When the Houston Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unions (CBTU) chose to endorse Ben Hall for Mayor, they went against the endorsement of Annise Parker by the Harris Country AFL-CIO. Richard Shaw, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Harris County AFL-CIO Council, responded with this letter to the Coalition’s President:
John Bland President CBTU Houston Chapter
I just read your letter of September 5, 2013, to Ben Hall announcing your endorsement of him in his campaign for Mayor. I am sorely disappointed. You should have followed the Harris County AFL-CIO Council’s endorsement recommendation. Please do not make any more requests of the Harris County AFL-CIO Council on behalf of the CBTU.
We must now put in extra effort and more precious Union dollars to advocate our endorsement of Mayor Parker in our Union households in our weekly blockwalks and other outreach activities. I do not like having to compete against internal Constituency Groups of the AFL-CIO. Furthermore, I have questions as to whether the CBTU, or for that matter, whether any Constituency group of the AFL-CIO can make such endorsements. I will be following up my concerns with a direct letter to the National CBTU.
Recently, you asked me to forward a notice of your golf tournament (which I gladly did several times). Now I am very concerned that the money raised will be put toward opposing the endorsement of the Harris County AFL-CIO Council of Mayor Annise D. Parker and/or given directly or indirectly to the Ben Hall campaign. This too will be appealed to the National CBTU.
Most recently, I shared a very confidential internal memo with you regarding our Labor Neighbor Plan for the upcoming General Election and, of course, the Mayor’s race. Had I known that you were endorsing Ben Hall, you would not have received that memo. Please do not attend any our of Labor Neighbor meetings that have been scheduled and do not ask me for any information regarding our Labor Neighbor initiatives and strategies for this General Election.
I am copying all members of the Executive Board on this email as well.
Richard C. Shaw
Harris County AFL-CIO Council
Billy Prince, the Vice President of the Houston Chapter of the CBTU, and also a Grievance Representative for the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, responded to the letter:
“It was very shocking… To come out like this and he’s the Secretary Treasurer of the AFL-CIO? This is embarrassing… For anyone to be off in labor and talking to someone like this, this is truly wrong. You let labor make their mind up on who they want to vote for… When we received this letter from Richard Shaw, it was so disturbing to me. It’s just like they telling you who to vote for, how you can vote. No. You recommend. Mr. Shaw may not have violated any laws but he certainly appears to use strong arm tactics to force his recommendations on others. This could be construed as abuse of power from the office he was voted into.”
Ron Gonyea, labor activist, co-host of Voices at Work on KPFT, and member of IBEW 716, TSEU / CWA 6186, believes that if there was anything inappropriate, it was the CBTU endorsement, “There is a process for official endorsements from members of the AFL/CIO and it appears that CBTU may have violated it.” He added that in his experience, “CBTU could have pushed for a ‘no endorsement’ in that race, which frees each member organization to endorse anyone. It is run very democratically , but if you lose, you’re expected to still follow the rules.”
Asked to comment on the controversy, Richard Shaw weighed in, saying:
“CBTU is a Constituency group of the AFL-CIO. Such groups (LCLAA, APRI, CLUW, Pride at Work, APALA) are groups directly connected to the AFL-CIO, and should, therefore, follow the AFL-CIO’s endorsements if any. The Groups named above are 501c3′s and cannot endorse. CBTU does carry a 501c4 (and can endorse) but it is not clear as to what the local Chapter has as it relates to the National Chapter. Again, all such groups are to follow the lead of the AFL-CIO. Locally, the CBTU has never endorsed (to my knowledge) and does not even have a procedure. Our procedures involves all of the affiliated Unions with extensive questionnaires and a required 2/3′s vote at the AFL-CIO Council meeting. CBTU, in my opinion, does not have any standing to make such an endorsement locally and may or may not carry the 501c4 as does the National CBTU. CBTU is not represented at the AFL-CIO Council meetings (they are not affiliated in the sense that Unions are affiliated, i.e. paying a per capita member fee that determines their voting strength). There is no procedure in place for them to affiliate like the Unions have and/or to even cast a vote. Since all of these groups are organizations chartered by the AFL-CIO, formed by the AFL-CIO and supported monetarily by the AFL-CIO, they should comply with AFL-CIO rules and procedures. I have asked the National CBTU to sort through this matter… By the way, the Unions with which John Bland is associated (Transportation Workers Union – TWU) have all endorsed Mayor Annise Parker and John Bland participated in the endorsement process fully regarding these endorsements.”