Letter to the Editor: Wrongly-expelled CFAC members have a right to participate in elections

By Letter to the Editor, by Kathie Bergquist

Last fall, I was one of five CFAC members who received notifications of “charges” by an anonymous accuser and were summoned to appear before a newly—seemingly hastily—formed Integrity Committee. Accused members were offered the opportunity to defend themselves from impossibly vague charges such as “executing a campaign to create harm to the union” and “creating a hostile member faction.”

Details about the charges, the evidence against us, the name of our accuser and the members of the Integrity Committee were withheld from accused members. My attorney sought information that would have allowed me to prepare a defense—the request was denied. We were not allowed to have legal representation present. All accused members refused to participate in these sham hearings and, it turns out, we were right to have done so, as it appears the leadership’s strategy was to blindside us by presenting dubiously-obtained private correspondence.

This past spring, a single “ruling” was made on behalf of all five members, suggesting we were all equally guilty of all charges—regardless of what we were individually charged with—and expelling all five of us from the union.

At this time, they provided the “evidence” on which their case was made. Imagine our surprise to discover that most of the evidence was comprised of personal email conversations on private accounts that occurred within a closed group. In those conversations, some participants brainstormed various remedies to resolve what was regarded as the undemocratic and opaque behaviors of the current union leadership.

It’s important to note that the most controversial of these strategies was completely legal and would have required the support of a large percentage of the membership. It’s even more important to emphasize that this suggestion was never acted upon, never went further than a small, closed group of people and that the idea itself, after exploration, was soon abandoned.

Not a single petition was ever printed, nor name collected. The emails shifting away from this possible strategy weren’t included in the so-called “evidence,” which had apparently been cherry-picked to create the desired narrative. In short, the Integrity Committee’s strongest case against us was based on private exchanges of ideas from which nothing occurred. We were offered no opportunity to appeal.

It is true that we expressed feelings that were critical of the current union leadership and their anti-democratic actions, which, ironically, the integrity tribunal only underscores. It is my contention that through this ordeal, our rights to free speech and expression were abused, and our rights to privacy and due process were violated. I believe this is a case of the punishment seeking the offense and that the union leadership wished to silence not only our dissent, but all member dissent. To that end, it’s been chillingly effective.

There remains the lingering question of how evidence was gathered and how personal correspondence from private email addresses came into the hands of the Integrity Committee. The emails appear to have been gathered over the course of several weeks, directly from the private account of one of the accused. The Illinois Eavesdropping Act specifically forbids such digital snooping.

The union leadership maintains that the emails were obtained “completely legally,” although it’s hard for me to see how that could be the case, since the law clearly states that such private correspondence can only be shared through the explicit permission of all concerned parties.

No matter how the emails were obtained, the law goes on to say that such communication cannot be used or distributed in any manner without permission of all parties; the evidence of its “use and distributing” by the integrity committee is present in the findings report itself. Further, it is prohibited to use such ill-gotten private correspondence as evidence in any hearing: criminal, civil or administrative.

I contend that not only were our civil rights violated, it is reasonable to believe we were criminally victimized in this process, as well. A dirty business, indeed, and a stain on the proud history and legacy of CFAC.

Due to the condemnable and unjust way these proceedings occurred, I do not recognize the authority of the so-called Integrity Committee, or the current union leadership, to expel me from the union. By restoring our rights to participate in union democracy, including the ability to vote in the upcoming elections, CFAC leadership has an opportunity to rectify the harm caused to my colleagues and me, and to the integrity of the union.

Kathie Bergquist

Adjunct professor in the English and Creative Writing Department