Questions Of Spending, Hiring Relatives At Union

Food Workers Union President Says Allegations Are Part Of Political Campaign To Unseat Him

The president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7 has hired relatives at high salaries, and former employees said he fired people after they had questioned union spending on certain food, liquor and trips, a CALL7 investigation found.

The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating the union's spending, but UFCW Local 7 president Ernie Duran Jr. said he believes the investigation is finished and he will be absolved.

Former employees said Duran and his family are living the good life on the union dues of some of the lowest-paid workers in the state.

"I'm not sure if the common union member is aware of how much the Duran family brings home in salary. In addition to their salary, the expenses that they have that the union pays for," said Irene Goodell, Duran's former secretary who was fired and who is suing for wrongful termination.

But Duran Jr. said all of his critics are supporting his political rival for union president and that is the reason they are making these allegations.

"I think you've talked to selected people, all right, and they're people who are involved in this political campaign," Duran said.

CALL7 Investigators obtained documents, receipts and credit card statements that show questionable spending at the union. CALL7 Investigators also confirmed that Duran's son, Ernie Duran III, and his daughter Crisanta Duran, make at least $119,000 a year in their jobs -- though Crisanta made less last year because she took a leave to work on a political campaign, federal records show.

Union president Duran told CALL7 Investigator that he didn't know how much he made, but federal records show he was paid about $140,000 from the local and an additional $20,000 from the national union.

"Well, I don't know what the figure is," Duran said. His spokeswoman later emailed the local pay to 7News.

Duran and his two children are on the executive committee which oversees the union's expenses, and Duran controls the jobs of four others on the executive board -- giving him control over a quarter of the board members.

And when the people Duran Jr. supervises vote against the union president's wishes, he makes his displeasure known, said Kevin Schneider, a former union director who served on the executive board.

"If he wants something passed, he'll tell us, 'I want to make sure this goes through,'" Schneider said. "That 'This is what needs to happen' so that's what happens."

Schneider voted on the executive board in a way that Duran did not like so on Jan. 15, 2008, Duran sent Schneider a memo that said please tell me "why you did not follow the consensus of the officers and directors regarding the steward's committee?"

Two days later, Duran sent Schneider another memo that said he decided not to discharge him.

"However, be advised this is your last chance," Duran wrote in the memo obtained by 7NEWS.

"What was the message to you?" asked CALL7 Investigators John Ferrugia.

"Vote the way the boss says or I am out the door," Schneider said.

Ferrugia asked Duran, "Did you ever tell Kevin Schneider how to vote?"

"Never told him how to vote," Duran said.

That control, former employees and some current board members say, extends to the executive board's audit committee. The audit committee reviews the expenses of Duran and his family, but only one person, who is a close friend of Duran, regularly reviews expenses and makes a recommendation to the full committee, the employees and audit committee members say.

Duran said that is also not true.

"It's determined by the audit committee, the executive board and the members who vote upon the expenses at the monthly meetings ... whether it's appropriate or not," Duran said.

Expenses reviewed by the CALL7 Investigators show the younger Duran charged expensive dinners, including ones with alcohol, to the union as well as car washes and Starbucks coffee.

"I don't believe the union should be paying for his morning Starbucks," Goodell said. "You know the man makes a paycheck, and I pay for my own Starbucks with my paycheck. And I think he should also."

One expense shows Ernie III, Crisanta and two other people went to dinner at Cuba Cuba, charging more than $150 to the union including $45 for alcohol. One of the people at that dinner told 7NEWS that the dinner had nothing to do with union business and it was just a social occasion.

Union president Duran said it would be inappropriate to charge a non-business dinner to the union, but he believes all the expenses were justified.

"They were business meetings and that's why there are receipts," Duran said. "Nobody goes out and buys things for themselves and their friends."

CALL7 Investigators also learned that the union paid for president Duran to go on various trips, including two weeks in Spain to study Spanish. The union spokeswoman said the trip was in 2003.

"There are probably Spanish speaking people in Colorado that could have helped him improve his Spanish," Schneider said. "He wouldn't have to go anywhere."

Duran said executive board members recommended the trip.

"Who were the three members who recommended you go to Spain and you couldn't learn Spanish in Colorado?" Ferrugia asked.

"I couldn't give you three names," Duran said.

"You ... don't know who they are?" Ferrugia asked.

Duran Jr. said all his trips are for business.

Former employees, including Kim Cordova, who is running against Duran Jr. in the union election, said Duran Jr. found reasons to fire people who questioned expenses or went against him. The votes in the election will be counted later this month.

Goodell also was fired after she said she questioned expenses. State unemployment officials determined the reasons the union gave for her firing were not valid.

Cordova and Goodell are suing the union for wrongful termination. Duran declined to comment on the personnel actions.

The union hired an attorney for Duran Jr. to sue both women for slander, union minutes show, but that claim has since been withdrawn.

"They run the union -- it's like a family business down there," Cordova said.

Duran Jr. maintains that there are no problems with his management and that the controversy is a political vendetta.

"A lot of the allegations are being made they're doing that because they want Kim Cordova and her slate to win," Duran Jr. said.