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Labor shake-up as head of shoppies' union stands aside


EXCLUSIVE | There is a major shake-up in the upper echelons of the South Australian Labor movement, with the secretary of the state’s largest union, Sonia Romeo, standing aside for personal reasons.

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Romeo was the first woman to be secretary of the SA branch of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association, the union which runs the ALP’s dominant Right faction, Labor Unity.

She will retain her role as convenor of the faction – anointing the majority of preselections to parliament – and remain as assistant secretary of the SDA.

However, her departure as the union’s boss heralds a changing of the guard in the shoppies’ union, a major player in the state’s industrial and political life.

She’ll be replaced by her offsider, assistant secretary Josh Peak, underlining his status as a rising star in the Labor party and movement.

Romeo was preceded in her role as secretary by current state leader Peter Malinauskas and Senate heavyweight Don Farrell, who were both key players at the factional helm.

She told InDaily by email: “As a mother of three beautiful boys, I have chosen to dedicate a little more time to them.”

She is married to Dan Romeo, a former chief-of-staff to Premier Jay Weatherill and Attorney-General John Rau, and who has since taken up a private sector role with a local environmental technology company.

“It has been a privilege to represent SDA members as Secretary and lead the fight to ensure retail, fast food and warehouse workers get a fair go at work,” she said.

“I am stepping down as Secretary of the SDA but I am committed to defending the interests of SDA members and will continue my work at the union in the role of Assistant Secretary.

“I look forward to continuing to work with Josh in the fight to stop unfair trading hours deregulation, to restore penalty rates and change the rules to make workplaces fairer.”

Peak told InDaily he was “certainly surprised” by his sudden elevation “but completely support Sonia in her decision”.

He noted the SDA has grown its membership at a time of travail for the broader labour movement, saying “that’s because we’ve focussed on delivering real outcomes for our members – retail workers and fast food workers”.

Peak said while Romeo was retaining her factional role, “I’m certainly aware that there’s a lot of significance in a change of leadership at the SDA”.

“It’s a significant position inside the Labor movement – we’re the largest union in SA, which is why we’re at the forefront of running campaigns [such as an ongoing fight against the Marshall Government’s proposed trading hours deregulation] and we’re proud of our connections to the Labor Party”.

Former SDA boss Farrell praised Romeo’s “terrific contribution” as “the first female secretary of the SA branch of the SDA”, but said “everybody understands the toll that public life take on you”.

“She goes with everybody’s goodwill and best wishes,” he said.

He lauded Peak as “a fantastic recruiter”, saying ” he set the record for union recruitment and I don’t think it’s been beaten since anywhere in the country”.

“He’s a young man, but he’s got an old head on his shoulders and I think he’ll steer the union in the right direction for the battles ahead,” he said.

Romeo’s decision comes in the same week former frontbencher Kate Ellis delivered her own farewell to federal parliament after opting to stand aside to spend more time with her young sons.

The move follows a changing of the guard at the left-wing SA Unions, after former secretary Joe Szakacs successfully contested the Cheltenham by-election for Labor.

He has been succeeded as acting secretary by offsider Angas Story, who confirmed he had nominated to fill the role permanently.

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