John Ferrugia stands by critical Ernie Duran/UFCW story
"Ernie Duran Takes on Channel 7 in PR War," published earlier today, shares a letter sent out by supporters of embattled United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 president Ernie Duran Jr.; it disputes a recent Channel 7 report accusing Duran of nepotism and questionable practices in regard to expenses. But none of the allegations prove persuasive for John Ferrugia, the correspondent who put together the package, and stands by it. For instance, he scoffs at the suggestion that Duran is undeserving of criticism because he hasn't been formally charged with misappropriation of funds. "This was not ever about crimes committed by the union," Ferrugia says. "It's a question of ethics and how people are spending money."
Ferrugia insists that the timing of the story wasn't determined by a UFCW election that Duran recently lost and is currently disputing. "I didn't care about the election," he says. According to him, the investigation had been underway for months before its mid-September appearance, with the air date set only after he and his associates, including producer Arthur Kane, lined up all the documents and interview subjects to be able to support their thesis.
At that point, they contacted Duran asking for an interview -- an action that turned into a topic of dispute. The letter claims that Duran gave Ferrugia "four dates and times that he could meet in a professional setting," but the reporter instead chose to ambush him in a parking lot. In response, Ferrugia says that the dates offered by Duran were all after the election, and Channel 7 didn't want to wait several weeks to move forward. After the two sides negotiated, Ferrugia says Duran agreed to meet on September 11, then canceled the meeting the day before, and offered only times in late September or early October when Channel 7 attempted to reschedule. So, on the 11th, Ferrugia waited in the parking lot of UFCW headquarters for Duran to emerge from the building. Ferrugia says they engaged in some back and forth, but Duran agreed to speak, and the video supports his account. The reporter is never seen chasing after Duran. Instead, the two of them stand side by side, talking.
Another complaint: Crisanta Duran says the $119,000 salary listed for her in 2008 was incorrect; the actual amount was closer to $71,000. But the text version of the story points out that she was gone for much of last year working on a political campaign (for, as it turns out, Senator Mark Udall), which accounts for the discrepancy. Ferrugia says her base salary remains the same.
In addition, the letter takes Ferrugia to task for not reporting about other executives at the UFCW aside from Duran who have relatives working for the union. Ferrugia acknowledges this fact, but emphasizes that the story was about Duran, who, as the president of the union, had much greater power to hire and fire. And besides, he knows of both Duran supporters and Duran detractors with family connections that could have been mentioned but were not.
Finally, the letter gripes about the unfairness of Ferrugia mentioning the hiring of Duran's daughter and son-in-law for part-time work considering the small amounts they were paid -- around $3,000 each in 2009. However, Ferrugia doesn't shrug off those totals. In his view, that cash might have meant a lot to a union member who'd been laid off or had his or her hours cut due to the economic downturn.
To Ferrugia, such hires speak to the culture of the UFCW under Duran's leadership. "The standard used by Ernie Duran is, 'I have committed no crimes. The Department of Labor says so,'" Ferrugia asserts. "Well, the Department hasn't issued its final report. But the standard used by our story was to say to union members, 'Here are questions that have been raised over a period of years about the ethics of this organization and the way it's spent your dues. This person is putting family members on the payroll, including his son [Ernie Duran III], who has almost no union experience, and he's paying him well over $100,000.'"
One more thing: Ferrugia says that today, he's begun hearing from people who've received late-night (as in around midnight) calls from union representatives attacking the Channel 7 report. He's not sure if they were robocalls -- but if they were, he wonders if union funds were used to pay for them. Yet another issue worthy of investigation.