Lessons from Andy v. Sal

First of all, I learned something important about the whole California debacle. I'm not going to out my sources about this. I am satisfied that they are reliable. My information is from people who participated fully in the restructuring meetings. But I'm not going to name names, so I understand that this brief narrative will be taken with a grain of salt. That's fine.
This matchup of Andy Stern v. Sal Rosselli came about during the efforts to restructure SEIU in California. There were detailed plans for each area, trying to take into account the uniqueness of the various locals rather than trying to use a "one size fits all" approach. There were very practical reasons for restructuring locals, and very understandable resistance to those efforts. As an International VP as well as local President, Sal Rosselli was a full participant in those meetings, and was vying to incorporate all the Health Care workers in California into the local he headed. He lobbied vigorously for this change, but his plans caused some concerns with management. That would have created a very large, very powerful voting block within SEIU. The tail might wag the dog. Only when it became clear that Sal was not going to get his way did he cry foul. Suddenly SEIU was run by a power hungry Andy Stern who was destroying union democracy in the guise of increasing efficiency and political effectiveness. Sal painted a picture of himself as a union idealist fighting the corruption of elemental union principles of bottom-up unionism. But there wasn't a peep about this from Sal until he didn't succeed in his own bid to consolidate power. Sal capitalized on the lingering unrest and frustration from members who had their locals merged. These groupings were voted in by the members, but the old problem of the tyranny of the majority had come into play as the largest local members voted to incorporate the smaller locals under their existing leadership. Some of the members of these smaller locals felt disenfranchised, and the stage was set for Sal to try to pull locals away from SEIU and into his new NUHW under the banner of reform. He used some "creative" techniques to accomplish this, and not all of them were found to be legal.
So, it's getting late and I don't want to add much more tonight. I just want to say that there is something in our nature that tries to simplify issues so we can categorize them, and sometimes that becomes a little like trying to smash in puzzle pieces that don't quite fit. It doesn't create a clear picture. The truth is, Sal had his own agenda, and it had little to do with being a unionism purist. At the least, Andy probably got ahead of himelf. I can't know the man's motives, and I don't know if he is perfectly clear about them himself, but there is a general consensus among some leaders that he forged out ahead of the membership and became generally intolerant of dissention. That does fly in the face of bottom-up democracy. No matter how noble the objective sought, the process must be honestly inclusive and empowering to members.
At the 503 level, while we have some wonderful and dedicated staff, it seems that recently there have been many votes taken where staff push agendas. I for one very much wish they would be very careful in this area. I don't question their motives, but the process counts too. The membership needs to be treated with dignity, as intelligent people capable of sifting through the details to arrive at an informed decision. Too often staff sell us on a single view, and there is a sense that rubber stamping a staff preference is a display of union loyalty, and at the least a member leader who asks too many questions or seems to otherwise slow down the process of approval is considered problematic, when in fact they are willing to take the risk of ostracism for the sake of preserving our core principles. Such pushes by staff can set the stage for an adversarial relationship with thoughtful members. It would be a tragic event if staff and member interests became routinely viewed as being in opposition. My hope is that staff will be willing to sacrifice a little expediency to protect the integrity of bottom up democracy, without which there is only an appearance of member empowerment and dignity. Please give us the benefit of the doubt. We don't want to be put on a pedestal, but do expect to be sincerely treated as equals.
Any thoughts?


Re: Lessons from Andy v. Sal

Unfortunately, your sources are not offering an accurate picture of CA. As a member of UHW, I lived this history. Here's what happened: Stern ordered UHW to transfer 65,000 nursing home and homecare workers to SEIU Local 6434, which was run by Tyrone Freeman. These UHW members didn't want to be transferred because Freeman's local was hugely ineffective in negotiating good wages and benefits for its members. Furthermore, Freeman was corrupt (the LA Times revealed that he stole more than $1 million from the membership). Put yourself in the shoes of a UHW member: If you're a nursing home worker in N Cal where you earn $13 an hour and decent benefits, would you want to be forcibly transferred to a corrupt local where nursing home workers earn $8 per hour with terrible benefits? UHW held an internal vote among its nursing home and homecare workers on this issue, and more than 90% voted to stay in UHW. UHW's 100-member Executive Board requested that Stern allow UHW's members to have a democratic vote on the matter. They told Stern that if the workers voted to transfer to Local 6434, they would support the members' decision 100%. They even invited Stern to come to California to speak to meetings of workers so he could make his best argument before a vote was taken. Stern refused to allow a democratic vote. Instead, Stern trusteed UHW for refusing to go along with his forced transfer. And here's an important question: After the trusteeship, did SEIU actually transfer the 65,000 workers to Local 6434? NO! In fact, it's been almost 2 1/2 years since the trusteeship, and SEIU has STILL not transferred the 65,000 members. It's clear the whole thing was just a pretext, fabricated by SEIU, so it could have a public justification for trusteeing UHW.

People too often try to paint the conflict as between Rosselli and Stern. It wasn't. UHW's entire 100-member Executive Board opposed Stern's plan, as did the membership. Stern's order violated the entire culture of our local, where members were accustomed to voting on all of our union's day-to-day decisions. Members elected their shop stewards. They voted on bargaining proposals. They elected their bargaining committee. They voted on info pickets and strikes. They voted on tentative agreements. They elected the union's Exec Board and officers. Etc. If members vote on all of these matters, why wouldn't you allow them to vote on something as important as which union local they want to belong to? This is why people are so angry with SEIU. SEIU trampled people's basic democratic rights. And after SEIU imposed its trusteeship, we've seen even worse. SEIU has conspired with our employers to target and fire long-time Chief Stewards and rank-and-file leaders who oppose SEIU's trustees. SEIU has cut backroom deals with our employers to cut our wages and benefits. SEIU has imposed loyalty oaths on stewards and members and refused workers the right to have democratic elections to elect our shop stewards. SEIU staffers have even slashed workers' tires and made death threats against workers who oppose SEIU. In fact, two separate superior court judges in LA issued restraining orders against an SEIU staffer for making death threats against workers at Kaiser. It's a travesty. SEIU members across the country should be speaking out about these outrages. One day it may come to your state or city if you dare to oppose SEIU's directives.