AFL-CIO Labor Leader Back to Work, Scolded Over Strip Club Expense

Gebre speaking at an immigration rally in Anaheim. Photo by Gabriel San Roman

UPDATE: MAY 7, 2:05 P.M.: Former Orange County Labor Federation leader Tefre Gebre is back on the job as third-in-command of the AFL-CIO following an investigation into a strip club receipt submitted for reimbursement months ago. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, ordered the probe back on Apr. 23. News of the discord among higher ranks of the national federation reached Splinter the following week when Gebre appealed to the 55-member executive council on the grounds that Trumka had no authority to place him on paid leave, much less investigate the matter.

Following a meeting of the council, Gebre’s paid suspension was lifted, but not before receiving a scolding from Trumka. “Dear Brother Gebre,” the three page letter obtained by Splinter begins.

“The conduct revealed in the report cannot be excused as an accident,” Trumka wrote. “The accident was the product of negligent practices by you and those acting under your direction. A receipt was submitted that on its face had no business purpose and reimbursement was requested for a meal when the receipt on its face contained no meal charge.”

On Nov. 3, 2018, Gebre patronized Playmates, a Miami strip club, and rang up a $117.70 tab. The AFL-CIO executive vice president contended that the receipt got submitted in error (not by him) and was retracted before reimbursement.

Trumka continued chastising Gebre for exercising “poor judgement,” not only in going to Playmates while on a work trip but in also blaming him for the tiff leaking to the press. He ordered Gebre to develop written protocols for reimbursement and to apologize to a state federation president embarrassed by the whole matter.

In response, Gebre penned a letter maintaining that Trumka bypassed the AFL-CIO’s constitution in ordering the probe and placing him on leave. “I assume you will discontinue your interference with my performance of the duties of my elected office immediate,” Gebre wrote.

The dust up is being framed as an ideological power struggle between progressive and establishment factions within the national federation.  Whatever the case, one thing is made clear by the investigation: “Titty Bar” Tefere didn’t go to Playmates to organize sex workers!

ORIGINAL POST: MAY 2, 10:30 A.M.: Tefere Gebre, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, spent May Day on paid leave instead of rallying the cause of working families. The labor leader’s troubles began a week ago when AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka put him in time out following a spat over an expense reimbursement. The national labor federation is currently investigating a receipt for $117.70 that was previously submitted months ago.

That’s the amount of money spent at Playmates, a Miami strip club.

Before Splinter got the scoop, Gebre enjoyed the acclaim that accompanied his ascension in 2013 to the third highest-ranking position within the largest federation of unions in the United States. Formerly the executive director of the Orange County Labor Federation, Gebre touted himself a “quadruple threat” against President Donald Trump from the perch of his new position; He’s an Ethiopian refugee, immigrant, black man and labor leader. Gebre’s also the only person of color in the AFL-CIO’s top leadership ranks.

But now Gebre finds himself at the center of a very public power struggle within the AFL-CIO

“While I have been informed that, after our staff identified the claim as potentially inappropriate, you stated that the receipt evidencing the expenditures was submitted in error, I believe that it is prudent for the AFL-CIO to investigate the matter further,” Trumka wrote Gebre in an Apr. 23 letter. He placed him on paid leave during the probe and asked that he assign his work tasks to another staffer for the next 30 days.

Gebre responded by sending a letter to the AFL-CIO’s executive council where he blasted Trumka for exceeding his authority in taking him off of his executive vice president duties.

“The basis for this action is a single receipt for $117.70 that was erroneously submitted to the AFL-CIO (not by me) and then withdrawn, without payment, once the error was discovered,” Gebre wrote to the 55-member council. “The AFL-CIO Constitution does not provide the President any legal authority to unilaterally remove me or any other officer from their elected position, even temporarily and with or without pay.” Gebre demanded a reinstatement and apology. He further contended that only the executive council had the investigatory authority to look into the matter in question.

Around the time of the strip club expense, Splinter placed Gebre in Miami campaigning for Democrat Andrew Gillum’s bid to become Florida’s next governor.

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