The executive director of the Eviction Defense Collaborative, one of San Francisco’s principal anti-eviction organizations, was ousted by its board of directors today, according to an internal email obtained by Mission Local.
The ouster comes as the EDC Union, a group representing some 60 workers, has gone public in recent weeks with allegations that management has stalled a new contract negotiation. According to former workers, the ouster was the result of negative staff feedback regarding the executive director, Martina I. Cucullu Lim who, had until recently, been involved in negotiations with the union.
“The Board and I have agreed it is time for me to step back, in order for someone else to step forward and lead EDC,” Cucullu Lim wrote today in an all-staff email.
Cucullu Lim’s last day at the anti-eviction group will be tomorrow, according to the email. Cucullu Lim did not respond to requests for comment. The group’s board of directors, in an email after publication, sent a statement disputing the removal was an “ouster.”
Cucullu Lim joined EDC as an executive director in 2018 after leading the Tenants’ Rights Program of Centro Legal de la Raza in Fruitvale, Oakland, where she directed legal services for eviction defense and rent-controlled related matters. EDC provides legal services and rental assistance to more than 5,000 low-income tenants facing eviction in San Francisco each year.
The board’s decision to fire was “in response to very negative feedback from the staff,” according to Christopher Tai, a former administrator at the anti-eviction group until mid-November.
According to Tai, an internal survey conducted in February asked the entire staff to evaluate Cucullu Lim’s performance. “And they came back uniformly negative,” said Tai.
In April, after the survey was completed, Board Director Josephine Alioto told Mission Local, “We support the ED, we are her supervisors, that’s what a board’s job is. And she’s a fantastic ED.”
Barbara Moreno-Lane, the former executive assistant to Cucullu Lim, said that the anti-eviction group, despite its external mission, internally had a “culture of fear and retaliation once your loyalty had come into question.”
“The office culture was very much ‘us versus them’ regarding leadership versus staff, especially union staff,” she said.
The decision to part ways with Cucullu Lim comes after a months-long dispute between the management of EDC and its workers over a new union contract.
Negotiations began a year ago, but have failed to produce a new union contract. The workers’ previous contract expired in April, something the union said at the time was the “result of continued carelessness from the management, and failure on their part to properly and effectively participate in negotiations for our new collective bargaining agreement.”
“Management is sweating. They were blunt; management is very uncomfortable being out of contract,” Peter Gaughan, a litigation paralegal and union leader at the group, wrote in a public Facebook post at the time.
In the month that followed, contract negotiations stalled. On May 9, the EDC Union made the struggles public again and asked their clients to call Cucullu Lim and “tell her to support her staff.”
The union was demanding “a living wage” and an increase in the lowest starting salary, currently set at $55,000. The union was proposing a starting pay of $75,000.
Moreno-Lane, Cucullu Lim’s former executive assistant, believes the executive director holds a negative attitude towards the union, and said Cucullu Lim described the union as “pushing an agenda.” Cucullu Lim was removed from the bargaining meetings in January 2023 and was replaced by the group’s board director, Josephine Alioto, according to the union.
“We’re doing everything that we can to get to ‘Yes’ — that is what management wants,” Cucullu Lim told Mission Local at the time. “And their experience of it is not our experience of it,”
According to Cucullu Lim’s email, under her leadership the group’s operating budget expanded from approximately $4.5 million to $20 million, and staff went from 25 to 105, including temporary workers.
The growth, however, may not be sustainable. According to Tai, the former employee, Cucullu Lim is leaving a workplace significantly struggling with budget and employee relations.
“She’s getting out and leaving all the problems with EDC, the budget problems, the union problems. This is a way for her to sort of get off the hook for it,” he said.
Update: On May 22, Eviction Defense Collaborative Board President Josephine Alioto emailed Mission Local a statement disputing the ouster of Cucullu Lim. “There was no ‘ouster,'” the statement read, saying the removal of the executive director of five years was a “time of transition.”