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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

Pilsen Alliance Leader Fired Over Financial Issues, Board Says, But Some Say It Was Over Push To Unionize

The board announced Moises Moreno's firing Friday, saying there were discrepancies in the group's finances and Moreno mistreated female board members. Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez led the influential group before he was elected to City Council.

Moises Moreno, former executive director of Pilsen Alliance, at a 2020 press conference about the state's ban on rent control.
Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
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PILSEN — Pilsen Alliance’s executive director was fired last week after board members accused him of financial mismanagement and aggressive behavior towards women on the board.

But the ousting of Moises Moreno sparked accusations from some the move was in retaliation to employees’ efforts to unionize.

The nonprofit social justice group’s board members announced in a press release Moreno was no longer serving as acting executive director as of 12:10 p.m. Friday, which is when an apparent vote took place ousting him. Board members did not elaborate on the firing at the time.

A statement on the group’s social media channels Monday said Moreno was fired “in a closed, illegitimate session” one day after employees sent a unionization letter to the board of directors. 

“We denounce the improper termination of the E.D. by the Board President, Martha Herrera,” the statement read. “Martha has committed a labor violation that is undoubtedly an act of retaliation towards the Executive Director and staff’s intent to unionize.”

Moreno told Block Club he was seeking legal counsel and declined comment.

But Herrera and board vice president Maria Gamboa said Wednesday the decision had nothing to do with the unionizing efforts. Herrera said she and other board members are pro-union and some have been members of unions themselves. In a recent letter to staff explaining the situation with Moreno, board members encouraged staff to form the union, Gamboa said.

“Why would we be against it?” Herrera said.

Moreno took over as Pilsen Alliance’s executive director in 2018 after Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) stepped down from the role to run for City Council.

Four board members told Block Club Moreno was fired because of missing financial documents and poor transparency about the organization’s spending.

Dulce Garduno, the board’s treasurer, told Block Club Moreno never produced receipts for the group’s expenses. When she has tried to compare spending with the organization’s bookkeeper, the numbers did not line up and Moreno refused to meet with her to discuss the discrepancies, she said.

“I’ve never gotten any receipts,” Garduno said.

Herrera denied the board met in secret. She said the board went into closed session, despite difficulties with staff members and some reluctant members who tried to block them from doing so.

The closed session, which had a quorum with five of the nine members present, voted 5-0 to fire Moreno, Herrera said.

“We’re allowing the board to do its job and not getting obstacles from the director, that’s why he had to go,” Gamboa said.

Another board member, Javier Ruiz, said the majority of the claims about financial impropriety are “unprovable.” The board received monthly reports, reconciliations and statements from the bank, he said.

“It’s a vague accusation that [Moreno is] hiding documents or he’s not reporting information,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz also accused the five voting board members of relocating to an undisclosed location to vote on the termination, and said some members are not in good standing with the organization so their votes are illegitimate. He did not specify which members.

“Until this day, the rest of the board does not have any notes about what occurred … the only written record we have was this termination letter that came the next day,” Ruiz said.

Some staff want Herrera to reinstate Moreno as executive director, recognize their “right to form a union” and want her to resign as president of the Pilsen Alliance, according to the statement posted on social media.

Sigcho-Lopez declined to comment, saying he had no knowledge of the situation unfolding.

Pilsen Alliance focuses especially on working-class and immigrant communities in Pilsen and the Lower West Side. Founded in 1998, the group organizes around issues like affordable housing, zoning and development laws, homelessness and housing insecurity, and public education.

The group fought a controversial attempt to landmark hundreds of buildings along 18th Street and Blue Island Avenue, saying it would saddle longtime residents with more costs to maintain their homes and lead to more gentrification. Pilsen Alliance members marched into Ann Sather in Lakeview — owned by Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) who chaired the city’s Zoning committee — demanding he bring the unpopular proposal for a vote. The committee unanimously killed the proposal in December 2020.

The group also has advocated to lift a state ban on rent control and raised money to help a popular paletero secure permanent housing and health care.

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