Shokouh, Sherman and Bustamante said Stern got the last part right but they were taking a wait-and-see attitude about a pledge the union made to enforce broader ethical reforms.
Rickman Jackson, Freeman's former chief of staff, has been ousted as president of the union's biggest Michigan local for taking improper payments from a housing nonprofit. Annelle Grajeda, an SEIU executive vice president who also heads its state council and a second L.A. chapter, has stepped aside pending a union investigation of payments to her ex-boyfriend.
"We need new people," said Bustamante.
Even with the lymphoma, she has been taking care of an ailing woman. "When she's very sick and I have to give her a shower, it's hard on my body," said Bustamante, who is from Guatemala. "I had my last chemotherapy last week."
Shokouh, an Iranian immigrant who cared for his 91-year-old mother until her death earlier this year, said he had once confronted Freeman about the need for improved health insurance and other benefits for many union members.
"He said, 'We will work hard for you.' He convinced me that union money is spent wisely," Shokouh recounted, shaking his head.
Sherman said he encountered Freeman outside a hearing that led SEIU officials to place his local in trusteeship. "I said, 'You messed up and you have to come clean.' He said, 'That's your version of it. You don't know the bottom line.' "
Folding his hands resolutely, Sherman added that Freeman had nothing more to say. "I know what he did to us," he said. "He ruined our union."
SEIU spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette said that the trustee now running the local, John Ronches, is doing "heroic" work to right Freeman's wrongs.