Association for Union Democracy

More Trouble in the American Maritime Officers union: Complaint by elected officer charges AMO president with “oppression” and with defying democratic vote

By Kurt Richwerger

John Clemons, an AMO member with 25 years of experience, ran for executive board office and was elected in December 2010. Clemons defeated incumbent Great Lakes Vice President Donald Cree. Clemons had sought the position from an opposition slate.

But according to Clemons, he never got a chance to perform his duties. Instead he found upon taking office that Int. Pres. Bethel had devised a scheme to shuttle most of Clemons’ duties to the very incumbent he defeated. Bethel made loser Cree a “consultant” to the International and told Clemons he had to work with Cree, because Cree was much more experienced, and Bethel placed Cree in charge of many of Clemons duties, most importantly, contract negotiations.

Clemons strongly objected that he and the members who elected him were being deprived of their democratic voice. But the President’s response was simply to deny Clemons the opportunity to do the job he was democratically elected to do and remove the elected position from the executive board following the end of Clemons’s current term, and according to Clemons, without following proper procedure, set in the bylaws, for amending the bylaws.

So, Clemons has now filed an internal complaint against President Bethel and is exploring his options. The Internal complaint charges him with “oppression in office” and other offenses in what Clemons characterizes as a four-year strategy to obstruct him, a critic elected by secret ballot vote of the AMO membership as the union’s Great Lakes Vice President in Toledo.

According to the complaint, Cree remains on the union payroll in Toledo and continues to claim authority in all matters affecting AMO members working on the iron ore and coal boats comprising the Great Lakes bulk fleet. “President Bethel intentionally eliminated the effectiveness of my elected position and intentionally prevented me from being able to perform the job I was elected to do,” Clemons said in the complaint. “This oppression and obstruction began as soon as I took office and continues today in violation of the AMO National Constitution.”

The complaint charges Bethel with “oppression in office,” “favoritism,” “gross misconduct” and “failure to conform to the AMO National Constitution or to national executive board policy.” The complaint was filed in accordance with Article XXIII of the union’s by-laws. Article XXIII provides for penalties ranging from suspension to removal from office and loss of AMO membership.

Commenting on the charges, Clemons said: “Tom Bethel defied the democratic will of the voting AMO membership majority by blocking me as a duly elected official and by giving Don Cree what amounted to an unofficial and unelected new four-year term in office. This pattern of arrogance led to the elimination of the official Great Lakes position in the AMO administration at the end of this year. Great Lakes AMO members will have no democratic representation on the AMO executive board and no voice in union policy but they will have to continue paying union dues. Great Lakes AMO members had no opportunity to vote on these issues.”

Under the AMO bylaws Bethel is required to respond to the charges. “I have been told that he filed a response, but I have not seen it,” Clemons said. “I will insist upon the right to review this response and comment on it.”

The union’s bylaws provide for a hearing by a three-member trial committee appointed from the executive board. The committee is to consider the complaint and report its findings to the board within an unspecified period. No date has been given to Clemons of when this committee will meet.

Bethel was designated president of AMO by the AMO executive committee in January 2007 to complete the term won by Michael McKay in the AMO election in December 2006. In January 2007 McKay was convicted in a jury trial of multiple felonies in a case brought against him by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor. McKay resigned as president of AMO and was sentenced to six years in federal prison.

Bethel was elected to the union’s highest official post for the first time by a 36-vote margin in a secret ballot election ordered and supervised by the Department of Labor in 2008.

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