By DON McINTOSH
Portland-based Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7901 has been placed in trusteeship by its national parent union.
Trusteeship means that a national union has suspended local elected leaders and appointed trustees to temporarily take charge of a union’s affairs. Trusteeships are regulated by federal labor law and are meant to restore democratic procedures, correct corruption or financial malpractice, or rebuild a union that’s failing to perform basic functions.
In Local 7901’s case, the union has suffered from significant internal turmoil in recent years. According to disclosures CWA filed with the U.S. Department of Labor explaining the trusteeship, most of Local 7901’s elected leaders had resigned and were not replaced, and local officer elections weren’t being held. General membership meetings weren’t being held either. Member calls were going unreturned, and collective bargaining negotiations and other representational activity were neglected.
On July 16, three of the remaining elected officers asked CWA National to place the local into trusteeship. CWA agreed and imposed the trusteeship Aug. 10, naming CWA District 7 staff representative Jeanne Stewart as trustee. At the request of the remaining officers, CWA removed president Alberto “AJ” Mendoza, the local’s sole employee, who had been at the center of the organization’s turmoil.
Elected president in September 2019, Mendoza took the helm of a local that had been in steep decline for decades. Local 7901 was once the union of Bell telephone employees, but the decline of landlines and constant downsizing in the telecommunications industry took a toll. Starting in 2010, the local began to add small “hot shop” bargaining units at unrelated businesses and nonprofits where workers were eager for a union, including Free Geek, KBOO, and the First Unitarian Church. The local had 1,800 members in 2001, but it was down to 660 when Mendoza was elected. By last September, it had 368 members.
Since 2021, president has been the local’s only paid staff position, a half-time job. Early in Mendoza’s tenure as president, he was involved in a flurry of unionizing additional nonprofits. But as time went on, a pattern emerged of scorched-earth tactics with employers, with Mendoza issuing public statements on social media painting progressive nonprofit employers as racist, anti-trans, anti-immigrant, union-busters, or some combination— sometimes over the objections of the members who worked there.
For small organizations reliant on the good will of community supporters and funders, the attacks caused reputational damage. As reported in the Labor Press at the time, the prominent Latino civil rights organization Causa dissolved in 2022, saying the attacks had been a factor. Community Alliance of Tenants also lost funding, and laid off nearly all its staff in June 2023. And in July, members at Free Geek left Local 7901 and joined ILWU Local 5.
Mendoza is listed as an employee of Portland Jobs With Justice. That employment is the basis of his Local 7901 membership. But staff there said they did not know how to reach him. The Labor Press was able to reach him via Facebook, but he failed to return a phone call after promising to do so, and then by text declined to be interviewed by our press deadline, demanded that we delay publishing this article, and threatened legal action.
Trustee Jeanne Stewart said with the help of a handful of Local 7901 members, she’s working to catch up on all the things that were left undone, including bargaining contracts for members.
“We’re trying to get out to the membership and make sure they know they’re not forgotten,” Stewart told the Labor Press. “We want to take care of everybody that’s in the local.”