Texas Project \(a legal office in San Juan that had won several pioneering lawsuits on behalf of migrant workers and other disadvantaged about. Jim was calling the shots. Then they got into a financial crisis and the board members legitimately wanted to look into this.” To look into it, the board paid for a management audit to identify spending cuts. TCLU treasurer Joe Cook, a Dallas advertising designer who’ became Harrington’s most vehement opponent on the board, acknowledges that the funding shortage prompted the board to reassert power. “There was a financial crisis. I’ll take credit for pushing the board to take a more active role,” he said. This put Cook \(a strong-willed man direct conflict with Harrington. “As long as you left Jim alone, it was okay. He’d had a free hand for 17 years. Then the board decided to exercise its rightful authority, and he said ‘I’m not gonna deal with you.’ But Crabb criticizes the board’s manner of intruding in a delicate situation. “There was a lot of finger-pointing and not much reasoning,” she said. “The board members overreacted. They realized they hadn’t been overseeing the office, and came in with a sort of blowhard attitude that exacerbated the tension. And I think Jim’s reaction was to get his back up. He didn’t like people coming into the office and looking over his shoulder.” Harrington concedes he has a prickly personality. “You don’t get Harvey Milquetoast to be a civil liberties attorney,” he is fond of saying. But he insists he objected, not to the concept of the audit, but to the amount of money being paid the auditor especially when compared to what he and Sloan were being paid. “They hired Catherine Moore, who is a personal friend of two board members her husband is on the board. She was hired at $9,000 as a management consultant. I think that was a bad decision,” Harrington said. “What bothered me was that they were paying her $23 an hour. After 17 years [with TCLU], I’m making $15 an hour. And the job wasn’t posted or advertised.” While Smith countered that Harrington never objected to the auditor’s contract when it was first brought before the board, Harrington rejoined that he didn’t then realize exactly what the scope of the auditor’s duties would be until he saw her at work. “They may have made a mistake in choosing to deal with their crisis by trying to hire a management consultant,” LaMarche said. “I think [Harrington] thought it was a bad move and refused to cooperate.” Harrington denies that he was uncooperative but concedes that, “She [Moore] was uncomfortable because I complained about her wages.” Cook alludes to financial mismanagement both in the Austin office and the South Texas Project. Bills were unpaid, several long-distance companies were being used, thousands of photocopies were being made, all without accounting or explanation. Harrington said that those areas of the operation weren’t his responsibility, since he was never made executive director. In truth, it would have been impossible for one or even two people to manage adequately the various areas, and the two sides dispute who was supposed to undertake those duties. It appears that responsibilities were never made clear. Said Crabb: “I think part of the problem was: Who was supervising whom? Was he [Harrington] supposed to be practicing law or running the office or the [South Texas] Project?” The same lack of definite responsibility for fundraising was it the board’s duty or Harrington’s? caused a similar crossfire of blame-assessment. ALAN POGUE Jim Harrington Union Yes or No? It was apparently this dispute over the management audit and some reportedly vitriolic arguments over the audit and Sloan’s pay that led some board members to call for Harrington’s resignation. Realizing his job was in jeopardy, Harrington and Sloan on April 27 wrote Smith and Straus a letter saying they had decided to organize into a collective bargaining unit and wanted to negotiate an employment contract. Shortly thereafter, Harrington’s wife, Rebecca Flores Harrington, director of the United Farm Workers of America Texas Project and a powerful figure in the progressive community in her own right, fired off a letter to Smith , criticizing the hiring of the auditor and the board’s treatment of the staff, and urging the board to recognize the union, She sent copies to elected officials \(including figures, and progressive groups. Harrington denies involvement in his wife’s letter. “What made Straus mad was the letter Rebecca wrote,” Harrington said. “This tells you how enlightened they are; they don’t think wives can have minds of their own. He [Straus] fancies himself to be pro-union, and it irked him to be named in that letter as anti-labor.” Harrington now claims that his attempt to unionize the office was the last straw. “What ultimately provoked [the firing] was a complaint I raised about the way they were paying Fara, and the forming of the union, in the words of one of the executive committee members, ‘pushed it over the cliff,’ Harrington told the Observer. He went on: “This is not all that unusual. Historically some of the most bitter organizing fights have been in progressive organizations, like the UAW union, for example. It reflects a paternalistic attitude on the part of some liberals [who] think they know better for their employees.” David Van Os, an Austin labor lawyer who represented Harrington and the Communication Workers of America in the negotiations, thinks the four-month delay before the board voted on unionization betrays their anti-labor attitudes. Smith said the board voted on it at their next regularly scheduled meeting, but first wanted to resolve the legal questions. “That is not a satisfactory response,” Van Os shot back. “They could have easily conducted’ a telephone conference.” The board leadership steadfastly denies that they opposed unionization. “That’s a blatant lie,” charged Cook. “He was in trouble before the idea of a union came up. There were no objections to it [unionization]. But there were questions about the legality of a two-person bargaining unit,” consisting of board told them the arrangement would be illegal, and a prominent Austin labor lawyer who knows the TCLU situation well \(and suming TCLU is covered by federal labor law, he [Harrington] clearly came under the statutory definition of ‘supervisor.’ A supervisor can’t engage in union activities. That would cause a number of complications under federal labor law.” But even though the board eventually voted by a two-to-one margin to recognize the unit, members of the anti-Harrington faction say the unionization effort was a sham. “Why in the world would CWA take such an interest in a two-person union?” asked Cook. “They did it to help Jim Harrington to intimidate and ruin the TCLU.” As evidence that the unionization effort wasn’t legitimate, Cook points to the fact that the CWA asked for removal of the bargaining unit after Harrington’s dismissal in September. Harrington insisted that the effort was a legitimate one, and that the union offered to remove the unit because, once Harrington was gone, there were no full-time staff employees left to be protected. “Not once did he mention forming a union until there was conflict,” said Smith, who is president of his American Federation of Teachers local. “Then he realized his job was in jeopardy and goes running to the union.” Harrington says THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13
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