Offices of a politically powerful labor union representing 38,000 Los Angeles public school workers have been raided by investigators from the headquarters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who suspended officers amid a probe of the organization’s finances and placed the local under emergency trusteeship.

Effectively ousted from the offices of SEIU Local 99 pending the probe and an internal hearing are president Janett Humphries, vice president Tomas Montoya, secretary-treasurer Cecilia Duarte, and about 35 trustees and executive-board members, according to SEIU spokesman Steve Trossman.

SEIU international president Andrew Stern took the emergency action on Friday, May 14, after finding that “the local is experiencing an extremely serious breakdown in both its internal governance and the overall conduct of its financial affairs,” according to an SEIU statement. Local 99 members were given a question-and-answer sheet that attempted to assure them that their contracts remain in effect and that all grievance and other procedures remain as they were before.

Stern sent trustee Valarie Long to head the SEIU Local 99 office on Eighth Street just west of downtown Los Angeles. Trossman said Long and her staff are looking into “questionable expenses, lack of financial controls over various union programs, and concerns about the integrity of the local union’s records.” He said he could not give further details.

Humphries, the local’s suspended president, has become well-known on the regional and national political scene. She has served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and on several boards on issues related to local schools, including a panel that recommended completing the troubled Belmont Learning Complex.

City Council President Alex Padilla appointed Humphries to the city’s Central Area Planning Commission last year after Mayor James Hahn failed to make a timely appointment.

Trossman said all members of the Local 99 staff have been interviewed and have been retained in the office. Humphries, Montoya and Duarte — who as officers also receive salaries from Local 99 — will be paid during the emergency trusteeship, which is to conclude following a hearing in late June or early July. After the hearing the trusteeship can be lifted or can be made permanent, pending elections for new officers.

Humphries said she came to head Local 99 12 years ago after a similar trusteeship was imposed by the SEIU International. She downplayed the severity of the current action. “It’s just a review by the International, basically,” Humphries said. “The International always has financial concerns with its locals.”

The SEIU had received complaints from local union members, according to a statement issued by the International in Washington. “We’ve taken this action to safeguard members’ rights,” Long said. “We’re taking immediate action to ensure that members receive the local union representation they need and expect.”

SEIU Local 99 members include teachers’ assistants and aides, playground workers, cafeteria workers, custodians and grounds attendants in the Los Angeles Unified School District and several smaller districts in Los Angeles County.

LA Weekly