|100,000-DOLLAR MAN: Joe DiNicola wants big bucks in back pay as the president of SEIU.|
Soon after becoming president of Oregon's second-largest union in 2004, Joe DiNicola walked a picket line with some of his members for one hour on Christmas Day.
Amid contract negotiations over wages and job security, 85 members of Service Employees International Union Local 503 were striking in front of the Parry Center for Children, a psychiatric treatment facility in Southeast Portland. The union members at Parry were among the lowest-paid in 40,000-member Local 503, making about $11 an hour.
What the workers, who picketed for 61 days through the cold rains of winter before settling at the end of January 2005, didn't know then was that DiNicola was keeping track of his time while he walked the line that 40-degree Christmas Day. He expected to get paid $44 for his hour, four times their regular hourly wage.
Over the past two and a half years, such intense clock-watching hasn't been unusual for DiNicola, who's tracked every extra hour he's worked. But other union officials say that is highly unusual because the Local 503's president is only supposed to get paid for a maximum of 40 hours a week.
From picketing to catching up on his email, DiNicola wants time-and-a-half for every moment that records show he works beyond a 40-hour week. Now DiNicola's attempt to receive back pay has some of the local's members wondering how much more Roguelike DiNicola is willing to become to get what they say isn't his.
In March, DiNicola officially requested overtime compensation from the union's executive director, Leslie Frane. He amended his time sheets for the time he has served as president of Local 503, Oregon's second-largest union behind the Oregon Education Association. In that time, he claims he worked more than 2,500 overtime hours—about 20 extra hours a week. It adds up to almost $110,000 in back pay on top of his annual $83,000 salary, compensation that comes entirely from union dues.
The unprecedented move prompted Frane to refer the matter to the union's executive board, which itself requested an outside legal opinion. In early April, the Washington, D.C., law firm of Bredhoff & Kaiser recommended not compensating DiNicola for the overtime. And on April 14, the board used that advice to reject DiNicola's request.
As president of the local, DiNicola holds a position that—according to the union's bylaws, constitution and policies—has never received overtime pay. The union began compensating its presidents in 1996.
"I've spoken to past presidents," says Kathie Best, president of the union from 2000 to 2004, when term limits kicked in and DiNicola replaced her. "None of us think that he is entitled to this money."
The bylaws state that the president "shall serve on an up to full-time basis." The three presidents since 1996, Karla Spence, Nancy Padilla and Best, never sought or received overtime pay, according to a confidential memo acquired by WW to Frane and DiNicola from Bredhoff & Kaiser.
"If he kept such scrupulous records of his hours I can only conclude that this was deliberate," says Barbara Casey, a union member elected to the board along with DiNicola. Casey, who wants DiNicola to resign, calls his actions a "grandiose payoff" with the potential to "tear apart the union."
The board's rejection of DiNicola's request hasn't stopped him. He has now taken his grievance to his employer, the Oregon Department of Revenue, seeking restitution through that state agency. Despite Nicola's not having done any work for the state since becoming union president, the Department of Revenue still acts as DiNicola's employer during his tenure as president.
According to union agreements with the state, any money paid to DiNicola by the state during his presidency must be reimbursed by the union.
Thus, DiNicola filed a lawsuit May 9 in Marion County to "recover unpaid overtime wages" from the Department of Revenue.
DiNicola, a tax auditor for the state, didn't return several calls seeking comment.
It's not just past presidents and current board members who say DiNicola is wrong in his pursuit of overtime pay.
John Hawkins, president of SEIU Retirees' union, wrote in that group's recent bi-monthly newsletter that he was "not willing to look any member [of the union] in the eye" and say he was willing to pay DiNicola for his overtime.
"He's pulling the wool down over people's eyes," says Greg Ledbetter, a Local 503 member who works for the state insurance commission. "I think the vast majority of the union would be against this."