HOUSTON – Earlier this month, a Harris County jury ordered Service Employees International Union to pay Professional Janitorial Services - Houston $5.3 million in damages, finding the Chicago-based labor union made false claims about the company’s business practices and treatment of employees.
In the wave of news articles and press releases that followed the trial, questions were raised on the seemingly controversial methods SEIU employs to force companies to fall in line, calling into question the integrity of the organization’s leaders and past and current attorneys.
The CEO of PJS Houston, Brent Southwell, even went so far to publically call SEIU “a corrupt organization that is rotten to its core,” promising he’d work to “ensure the union is removed from Texas and sent packing back to Chicago.”
PJS sued SEIU Local 5 in 2007, alleging the labor union sent thousands of letters and flyers to PJS customers that relied on forged documents in order to disparage the company.
The company believes SEIU fought the disparagement lawsuit for the better part of a decade to avoid public exposure of its “contract campaign manual.”
During the trial, counsel for PJS argued the labor union used the manual as a playbook, which surfaced several years ago in a racketeering lawsuit brought by Sodexo, a food services company, against SEIU, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.
The manual advised union workers to disobey laws and to threaten managers with accusations of racism or sexism.
When called upon to testify, Darin Dalmat, SEIU’s former in-house counsel, denied that he had ever seen the manual, but was apparently left “dumbfounded,” according to the article, when a PJS attorney pointed out that he had served as counsel for unions in the Sodexo case.
Dalmat left SEIU in 2008 to join the D.C. law firm James & Hoffman, which specializes in labor and employment law.
While Dalmat did not respond to requests for comment, PJS attorney Nathan Campbell told the Record when Dalmat was pushed on his awareness of the manual he “hedged,” testifying that he was a junior lawyer back then and had no recollection.
In a statement released after the trial, PJS said the evidence showed SEIU directed Texas organizers to ignore laws and use Dalmat to “legalize” their conduct by instructing them to simply write “allegedly” in front of false statements that were sent to PJS customers, and approved documents that were sent to him in as little as three minutes in some cases.
PJS contends the practice resulted in “another scheme” where the SEIU’s lead organizer, Maria Luisa Hernandez, apparently forged employee statements on claims against PJS, and also engaged in efforts to influence witnesses at trial.
“The scheme extended to the union’s Austin-based attorneys, Philip Durst and Craig Deats, who told the court Ms. Hernandez was recovering from a serious head injury and was under heavy sedation that prevented her from testifying, though she was ordered to appear and admitted under oath that she suffered no such injury and was taking no sedative medication,” reads the PJS statement.
Campbell said defense counsel informed the court that Hernandez had to receive treatment for a brain aneurysm the week before she was supposed to testify. The trial court called her in to test her competency to testify, and Hernandez said she was only taking Tylenol.
The judge ruled she could testify, Campbell said.
PJS plans to petition local prosecutors to investigate the “apparent perjury” that was committed by SEIU representatives during the trial.
According to PJS, evidence produced in the trial resulted in the following findings:
- SEIU filed 19 unfair labor practice complaints against PJS with the National Labor Relations Board and cited the complaints as “evidence” of the company’s mistreatment of employees, despite the fact that every complaint was dismissed by the federal agency or withdrawn by the union;
- The union filed a class action lawsuit against PJS that claimed the company owed back wages and “deposits” to its employees, then cited the lawsuit as evidence the company was violating federal wage laws, despite the fact that the Department of Labor found no such violations and the lawsuit was dismissed;
- SEIU directed Texas representatives to “recruit” reporters at the Houston Chronicle and other outlets who would help them “take the offensive” in the campaign against PJS. This included a strategy to avoid any media attention on the failure of the SEIU to gain support from PJS employees for its organizing campaign; and
- The SEIU instructed Texas organizers to work with its media “allies” to focus their reporting on the union’s falsified and now discredited claims.
On Sept. 14, court records show, PJS filed a motion for entry of judgment on the verdict, requesting the court sign a judgment for actual damages of $5,316,869 as awarded by the jury, and nearly $2.5 million in pre-judgment interest.
Campbell told the Record the jury awarded every dollar sought.
In addition to Campbell, PJS is also represented by John Zavitsanos and Adam Milasincic, attorneys for the Houston law firm Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing.
Harris County District Court case No. 2007-27181