Sep 6, 2013

Tribalism Trumps Truth

Turns out no matter what facts are presented to politically minded individuals, the decisions on what is a valid fact depends on who is delivering the fact rather than the what the fact is.


I would like to apologize to all of my conservative friends for getting frustrated with them while discussing public policy and current affairs. I couldn't get past their identifying with conservative ideology, just as they could not get past my identification with progressive/liberal ideology.


Sep 5, 2013

Patrick Gaspard: Complicit in systemic homophobia

Sent: Thu 9/5/2013 12:37 PM
To: ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''

Mr. Gaspard,

You very likely do not remember me or the incidents that occurred around May and June of 2007 while I was employed by SEIU 1199's political department, but as the forwarded email below shows you were aware of it at the time. With your likely appointment to Ambassador to South Africa I hope that the spirit of reconciliation, that could bring even F.W. de Clerk to admit his responsibility and apologize for his part  of Apartheid, would enter your heart so that you too would be able to own up to your part in a vastly smaller infraction to human equality. There is as Ms. Platt said five years ago professional repercussions to challenging someone as influential as you, but if it is more advantageous to buttress the status quo and let malevolence go unchecked I do not wish to profit from such systemic evil.  

I want to refresh your memory, that on the June 29th before the meeting of all the organizers (essentially a closing ceremony) you called me to further explain that you had not done anything wrong, and that it would be illegal to fire any of the organizers (under what I could only assume was the presumption that the organizers that were released from their contracts to work for your department still had some collective bargaining agreement with SEIU not just their union shops); I had even given examples of organizers refusing to work, sleeping on the job, and taking SEIU rented van to drive into Manhattan to complain about not being authorized to drive the SEIU van any longer (the last example was not fully fleshed out at the time). In each instance you held to your belief that they couldn't be fired. I stated that New York State was an At-Will Work State, and employers could fire employees at will just as employees could leave the employer, even after the declarative statement you still held to the belief that it was still illegal to dismiss these employees. You, within the course of our discussion, mentioned that you had been called the n-word in the work environment. We hold different opinions on whether or not that would be just cause for termination-- I would have no qualms about sacking an individual for stating such racial epitaphs and you have no objections to continuing that bigot's employment.

Yesterday a federal jury awarded Brandi Johnson $280,000 for her supervisor using the n-word towards her in one incident that happened to be recorded. The consistent culture and use of homophobic phrases within the department that you were head of, is your responsibility. I bringing this up not for litigious reasons, but to ensure you know the labor laws in New York State are the opposite that you so emphatically assured me, and you carried out in policy within the SEIU's Political department.

Sean Finnerty

Due to not knowing which if any of the emails I'm sending to you will reach you, I am also going to post tread of emails on my own website and send a link to your twitter.

-----Original Message-----
From: Sean Finnerty
Sent: Fri 6/29/2007 9:56 AM
To: Patrick Gaspard; ''; Joshua Gold; Van Parish; Betel Manjura; Robert Constant; Debra Pucci; Laura Santucci
Subject: RE: Kym Platt

Other than the pluralization of the homophobic comment from yesterday's 4:00PM meeting everything that was in Ms. Platt's email was consistent with the truth. The omission of Mr. Gaspard's squashing any intolerant language in Ms. Platt's email does not take away from the essential message. The greater issue that I believe Ms. Platt was referring to is the culture of intolerance that exists within the union membership as well as Friends & Family campaign employees. In large part the hateful outbursts that occurred May 31st was the catalyst to the June 6th meeting that was attended by Mr. Parish, Ms. Manjura, and Mr. Gold. The May 31st outburst was also witnessed by former SEQ Area Coordinator Mr. Daniel May who had commented to me afterward that he was shocked at how angry and hateful they were.

On May 21st the community organizers were directed to get confirmations from pastors for a church blitz for Sunday June 3rd and after getting a confirmation with a specific church that they would write which of the community organizers would be attending which church on piece of butcher paper on the wall. On May 31st, 3 days till the church blitz, there were only 2 churches written on the wall. As a reaction to the utter lack of initiative on the part of the vast majority of community organizers was that Ms. Platt and myself gave them the direction that the activity they would blitz on Sunday was the Queens Gay Pride Parade/Festival. Due to Ms. Platt's and my justified assumption that the community organizers already held homophobic beliefs I took it upon myself to be the only lead to give the direction, with the intent that as a heterosexual it would soften the community organizer's homophobia. Their intolerant outburst and hateful language would have ended in an immediate termination in other organization that I have worked with in the past, but the culture that permeates throughout the union of lax or non-existent discipline creates the effect of absence of accountability on the part of the community organizers.

The pliant attitude towards discipline that is held by Ms. Manjura, Ms. Pucci, Mr. Parish, and Mr. Gold causes the continuation of a work environment that is complicit of intolerance and bigotry. Mr. Gold and Mr. Parish were both aware of the behavioral problems from the South East Queens team previous to the beginning of phase 2. Ms. Manjura became aware of the behavioral problem no later than the morning meeting on June 6th in the Political Action Department’s office, which resulted in her attendance of the South East Queens team meeting at 12:00 of the same day.

Within the same spirit as Mr. Gaspard’s comments that ‘there are community organizers, and then there are community organizers-in-name-only,’ it is my belief that a substantial minority of the Friend’s & Family campaign’s community organizers are wholly unemployable, and that a majority of the  community organizers are incapable of performing tasks beyond that of a canvasser. Under serious scrutiny and a thorough interview those that are unemployable would have never been hired.  Under Mr. Gaspard’s tenure as Political Director the union delegates that are delegates-in-name-only continue to hold their positions, it would be counter-intuitive for any direct supervisor or objective outside observer to come to the conclusion that if the head of the political department is frustrated with dead weight within the organization and cannot do anything about it there is little if anything that direct supervisors can do about ridding the same dead weight that exists beneath them. 

As Ms. Platt had noted in her email, the 4:00PM meeting was simply a venue for sub-par employees to pile-on complaints towards their supervisors. I also did not feel comfortable in the room, but due to the futile belief that my staying and taking hypocritical and unjustifiable attacks on my work performance would show my ability to be the bigger man would accomplish anything. The complaints and the reiteration of incidents heard yesterday, as stated in the meeting by me, was nearly a daily occurrence. Nothing was resolved yesterday in large part because of the systemic problem that the union’s culture is counter productive. If a line worker chooses not to work, they can simply distract themselves, coworkers and their supervisor with petty interpersonal problems and not held accountable for his/her choice not to work. It was never expressed throughout the 3 hour meeting that the leadership style of Ms. Platt, Mr. Constant or myself detrimentally effected their ability to accomplish their work duties.

Sean Finnerty
Friends & Family Campaign
Area Coordinator
(917) 612-9021

-----Original Message-----
From: Patrick Gaspard
Sent: Thu 6/28/2007 10:10 PM
To: ''; Joshua Gold; Van Parish; Betel Manjura; Sean Finnerty; Robert Constant; Debra Pucci; Laura Santucci
Subject: Re: Kym Platt

Kim, did Sean tell you my response to that derogatory language? I'm certain that he must have. I didn't tolerate a hint of homophobia in that meeting. I made it abundantly clear to all that we have zero tolerance for hate speech. And to be absolutely factual, this negative expression came from a single member of the team and others showed their disapproval when I chastised her. Sean would be doing you a disservice if he failed to communicate the incident in its full dimension.

This afternoon, I moved quickly in response to what I saw as a cowardly attack against you and Sean in the form of a petition. I clearly stated my displeasure with the organizers at the start of the meeting. I did not deprive you of the letter. You never gave me an opportunity to share it with you. You stormed out of the room after I asked every participant to be mindful of tone and language. You weren't robbed of the opportunity to defend yourself. You left when I asked you and all to refrain from cursing. That is a perfectly reasonable ask in a professional setting. I was disappointed when you indicated that you are unable to conduct a conversation without resorting to foul language. In your absence I spoke out vigorously on your behalf. Your storming out of the room was inappropriate and immature. Sean can attest to my defense of your leadership style and my promotion of your accomplishments. I hope that he will be honest enough to do so as a response to this email. Any repurcussions you experience as a result of your decision to exit today's conversation will be entirely unrelated to your performance in the field.

The details of the incidents in Southeast Queens that you allude to were not directed to my attention. I would never allow you to suffer such indignities in an 1199 space without addressing the offenders. Gary Hilliard and others who targeted you based on gender or sexual orientation will be properly addressed. Please accept my deepest apologies for any hatred directed at you by anyone on this organization's payroll.

-----Original Message-----
From: Kym Platt 
To: Joshua Gold; Patrick Gaspard; Van Parish; Betel Manjura; Sean Finnerty; Robert Constant; Debra Pucci
Sent: Thu Jun 28 21:37:27 2007
Subject: Kym Platt

This afternoon I was verbally abused and called a "dyke bitch" by community organizer Gary Hilliard, who called me this inches from my face in a threatening manner.  A few hours later, a meeting was convened as a forum for the community organizers to express their complaints against me and my co-Area Coordinator Sean Finnerty.  The impetus behind this meeting was a letter and petition calling for my removal from the project as the Area Coordinator.  I was never shown the letter or the petition, although both were sent to the entire leadership staff of The Healthcare Education Project, including George Gresham, the President of 1199.  This alone is character defamation.

I felt that from the moment that I walked into the room that it was nothing more than a venue for personal attacks rather than constructive criticism.  Still hurt and frightened from Gary Hilliard's offensive and bigoted comments, I chose to leave the meeting rather than further subject myself to the hostility and attacks of what felt like a homophobic lynch mob.  Especially, when I knew that I would be unable to defend myself properly, and had received no support from my supervisors.

It was later confirmed by my co-worker, Sean Finnerty, that several references were made by community organizers regarding my sexual orientation and gender expression, including being called "manly" by Yvonne Ming.  

Throughout this entire campaign I have worked in a charged and hostile environment in which there are documented cases of explosive behavior and near-violent incidents by several community organizers.  I have endured numerous personal verbal attacks and been made fun of because of my sexual orientation and gender expression without being allowed any professional leverage as a supervisor to counter any of it.  I had previously alerted Josh Gold and Van Parrish about the challenging conditions I was working under when community organizers Michael Harris and Anne-Marie Parris stated to me that they "hated gay people" and did not wish to attend the scheduled Gay Pride event in Queens.  Nothing was done about this.  I feel management has not defended me.  My complaints have not been dealt with and little support has been given to me to enforce my very basic human rights; rights supported by New York State Law.
I have worked extremely hard on The Health Care Education Project: Friends And Family Neighborhood Action Plan.  I strongly believe in the focus and goals of the project.  However staying for today's meeting to face more bigotry and anger was more than I felt I could do.  Now I fear professional repercussions because of the disempowering situation within which I was required to navigate.

Kym Platt