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UNITE HERE Local 17: Members reject longtime incumbents, elect entire slate of new leadership

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, November 17, 2017

By Steve Share, Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS — Voting October 25, members of UNITE HERE Local 17 rejected longtime incumbent officers and elected a brand-new slate of officers, executive board members, and trustees to three-year terms.

Christa Mello was elected president, defeating incumbent president Nancy Goldman.

Goldman first won election in 2005, leading a slate that was elected that year without opposition.

This year’s election brought defeat for Local 17’s other top three incumbent officers: Martin Goff, senior vice president; Wade Luneburg, secretary-treasurer; and Uriel Perez Espinoza, vice president.

(Luneburg, however, will be staying on staff as Local 17’s political director while Espinoza is staying on staff as community organizer/business agent).

Led by Mello, the slate which defeated the incumbents included: Rosa Valenzuela for senior vice president; Sheigh Freeberg for secretary-treasurer; and Mewael Gebru for vice president.

Mello, a Local 17 business agent for the past seven years, came out of UNITE HERE Local 1481 in Northfield. She was a rank and file member working at the Multek plant in Northfield and a shop steward. Local 17 officers helped Local 1481 negotiate the smaller local’s contract. Later, they invited Mello to join Local 17’s staff.

Valenzuela, a former housekeeper at the Ramada Plaza, was part of Local 17’s original organizing effort there. She has been a Local 17 member for 20 years and has worked 12 years on Local 17’s staff.

Freeberg has been on the Local 17 staff for three years. He was a “salt” at the Radisson Blu Mall of America and part of Local 17’s organizing drive there.

Gebru has been a Local 17 member for 11 years and participated in the union’s Sky Chefs organizing campaigns at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

Other members of the winning slate included Betelehem Ali, Carrie Evans and Veronica Perez Moreno for executive board and Desiree King, Jill Gegen, and Rosanne Kasper for trustees.

The challengers’ campaign featured a Facebook page, “Democratic Local 17.”
The Facebook page said the slate was running on a platform of “Lower Wages for Leadership, Better Representation, A More Transparent Union, Better Contracts, More Community Outreach.”

The new leadership was sworn in October 29.

“What we are focusing on is representation of the members, building power, getting members more involved in the union,” Mello told the Labor Review.

Another goal: “Reinforce the importance of in-shop stewards.”

She added, “we’re focusing on new ways of communicating with members,” including text messages and a coming re-design of the Local 17 web page.

In addition, the new leadership is inviting all members to a “Membership Planning Meeting” scheduled for Wednesday, January 17 from 4:30-7:30 p.m. at the United Labor Centre.

“That’s when we’ll begin developing an action plan going forward for the union,” Mello said. “We have a very strong vision for the future and the empowerment of our members.”

UNITE HERE Local 17 represents 3,000-plus workers at metro area hotels, restaurants, and banquet and catering facilities.