Sources tell us that AFL-CIO executive vice president Tefere Gebre, who had been suspended by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka in a controversial workplace dispute, has been reinstated to his job. But the fallout from the remarkable battle atop the highest ranks of organized labor is sure to continue.
In late April, Gebre, the third-in-command at the 12.5 million-member federation of labor unions, was abruptly suspended from his job pending an investigation into a single November 2018 receipt that Gebre had submitted for reimbursement. The receipt was a $117 expense at a Miami strip club. Gebre says it was an honest mistake, that the receipt was submitted in error and was immediately withdrawn when he was alerted to it. Nevertheless, Trumka placed Gebre on leave and initiated an investigation.
Gebre appealed to the federation’s executive council, an elected body of union leaders that acts as the organization’s board of directors, to reinstate him to his job. He disputed the facts of the case and argued that Trumka had exceeded his authority by placing him on leave. This morning, a subcommittee of the executive council discussed Gebre’s case in a meeting. Sources say that by the end of the meeting, Gebre’s suspension had been lifted, and that he is now allowed to return to work. It is unclear whether Gegre’s reinstatement amounts to an exoneration in the investigation, or whether the AFL-CIO will recommend any further punishment. What is clear is that this case is now serving as a proxy for larger philosophical and political disagreements that are rife within the organized labor world, and that manifest themselves in the AFL-CIO’s boardroom.
Gebre, the only high-ranking officer in the AFL-CIO who is a person of color, is generally seen as progressive, and has been outspoken on immigration issues. The AFL-CIO’s own staff unions publicly supported him in his dispute with Trumka. Neither Gebre nor Trumka have commented publicly thus far.
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My colleagues and I are members of the Writers Guild of America, East, making us members of the AFL-CIO as well.
Although Gebre will now be returning to work, this unusually ugly public episode now hangs over the AFL-CIO headquarters like a cloud. It remains to be seen how well Gebre will be able to work with Richard Trumka after Trumka tried to run him out of the organization. The drama inside America’s most powerful union coalition comes at a time when barely one in ten U.S. workers are union members. Whose job is it to fix that? The AFL-CIO’s.
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