SEIU leader accused of harassment demoted, but will remain at union
The leader of a powerful Massachusetts health care workers union who was accused of sexually harassing female co-workers has been removed from his leadership position — but will remain with the organization in a lower-level job.
Tyrék D. Lee Sr. had been serving as executive vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the union’s highest rank in Massachusetts, and a job in which he advocated for workers rights. He was suspended in December amid allegations of inappropriate behavior while the union conducted an investigation.
“1199SEIU takes allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct seriously,” George Gresham, president of the New York-based labor union, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, said in a statement Tuesday. “We consistently strive to improve working conditions for our members, and expect the same respect to be provided for and by union officers and staff.”
“The Union believes that Mr. Lee can continue to make valuable contributions to the Union and our members,” he added. “Upon the completion of anti-harassment training, Mr. Lee will begin a new role with the Union.”
Cara Noel, a union spokeswoman, said Lee would return to work in the next few weeks as an administrative and technical liaison. This is a “union-wide” position, but Lee will no longer manage other employees, Noel said.
Lee did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
His demotion comes about three weeks after a Globe report detailed the allegations against him. Several people who spoke with the Globe on the condition of anonymity said Lee pursued sexual relationships with female co-workers, including by sending vulgar messages about sexual acts he wanted to perform with them. He allegedly pursued women who were younger and subordinate to him.
Lee is also accused of touching female co-workers on the arms, shoulders, and backs; talking openly about women’s “hot” bodies; and boasting to colleagues about being a “sexy” grandfather. Once, he allegedly exposed his genitals and urinated in front of several female associates in the parking lot of a restaurant where colleagues had gathered for drinks, according to people with knowledge of the incident.
In addition to interviews, the Globe reviewed notes, e-mails, and other records included in the investigation into Lee’s behavior.
A person with direct knowledge of the allegations against Lee said the union’s decision to remove him from leadership “sends a clear message publicly that what he did was wrong.”
“I hope he learns from it,” the person added.
Union officials have not discussed the specific allegations against Lee. They said the investigation into Lee’s behavior found no criminal behavior but found that he violated union policy. (They did not say which policy.)
Lee was a hospital telephone operator who rose through the ranks to become the first black man to lead a statewide union, in 2016. He was a frequent presence at political and labor union events and played a role in the national Fight for $15 campaign, which promotes raising starting wages to $15 an hour.
Tim Foley is now the acting executive vice president in charge of the union’s Massachusetts operations.
1199SEIU represents about 56,000 Massachusetts workers, including those in low-wage technical, clerical, and service jobs at hospitals and other health care facilities.