An ongoing dispute in organized labor has spilled onto the pages of Wikipedia in recent weeks. Visitors who typed in the name of J.J. Jelincic, the president of the California State Employees Association, got a relatively normal-sounding short biography–until a couple sentences in.
Then they were told: “Today, CSEA simply provides centralized support services to the affiliates such as printing and accounting, and Jelincic can’t quite come to terms with the diminished role of his position, so he spends a lot of time facilitating anti-union activities aimed at SEIU Local 1000. Jelincic is frequently quoted by print media, because he really doesn’t have much else to do but write letters to the editor.”
What followed was far nastier and, according to CSEA spokesman Steve Mehlman, untrue and libelous. Even worse, Mehlman said, somebody used his name to do it. Someone registered as “Stevemehlman” as a Wikipedia contributor and changed both the CSEA and J.J. Jelincic entries multiple times during May and June.
The false Steve Mehlman appeared to have been in an ongoing battle with another contributor, Unionman 2, who frequently changed back entries on Jelincic and the CSEA. The CSEA entry also was changed, though in less overt ways. For one thing, it links to SEIU Local 1000 but not the CSEA Web site.
Mehlman himself, also a registered Wikipedia contributor, changed the entries once again and contacted Wikipedia management. CSEA was not aware of the changes until contacted by the Capitol Weekly, he said.
The material had to do with an ongoing dispute with SEIU Local 1000, Mehlman said, which represents more than 85,000 civil-service employees. It is one of four organizations that collectively make up the CSEA–the others are the Association of California State Supervisors, the California State University Employees and the CSEA retirees incorporated–but represent over half of the CSEA’s 140,000 members.
Jelincic, formerly an investment officer for CalPERS, came up through Local 1000 and won election to the top spot at the CSEA as a reformer in November 2003.
However, once there, he eventually split with longtime ally Jim Hard, the head of Local 1000, who favored more control for Local 1000 and other CSEA affiliates. In 2005, Hard challenged Jelincic for his job, but lost.
“They want to muzzle the CSEA,” Mehlman said. “They don’t think the CSEA has a right to speak.”
Local 1000 and the other affiliates have chosen to have more autonomy in recent years, Mehlman said, taking greater control in bargaining labor contracts. However, the CSEA still has the final say in areas such as health care and pensions, Mehlman said–and Jelincic has the responsibility to represent all CSEA members, not just Local 1000.
Jelincic was traveling and could not be reached by press time. A SEIU Local 1000 representative did not return a call by press time.
Politics has played out on the pages of the open-source encyclopedia Web site since it launched in 2001. Any registered contributor can change any entry, but the organizers of the site frequently freeze or restrict editing access to the pages of controversial political figures, most notably the page for President George W. Bush.