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Former Leaders of UHW Local Quit SEIU, Plan to Form New Health Care Workers Union

By Michelle Amber and Joyce E. Cutler, Daily Labor Report, Jan 29, 2009.

A great summary of SEIU's hostile takeover of UHW with analysis from many in our movement for union democracy.


One day after the Service Employees International Union placed United Healthcare Workers-West under trusteeship, the former leaders of the 150,000-member local Jan. 28 announced plans to form a new union-the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

In a teleconference call, Sal Rosselli, who was removed as president of the large California health care local, told reporters that some 100 elected leaders and members of the full-time staff had resigned their memberships from SEIU earlier that day.

Rosselli said the leaders were responding to demands from thousands of UHW members across California that the local disaffiliate from SEIU, which is moving 65,000 of UHW's long-term care members to a new statewide local of long-term care workers.

SEIU President Andy Stern Jan. 27 announced that he had placed UHW under trusteeship, removed all the elected leaders, and appointed two international executive vice presidents-Eliseo Medina and Dave Regan-as the trustees in order to "correct financial malpractice and to restore compliance with democratic procedures" (16 DLR A-20, 1/28/09 ). He also said the local failed to comply with conditions set by an outside hearing officer to abide by the decision to move its long-term care members.

The trusteeship was imposed five days after SEIU's International Executive Board adopted a 105-page report and recommendations by former Labor Secretary Ray Marshall, who conducted hearings last fall on whether UHW should be placed under trusteeship (13 DLR A-8, 1/23/09 ). While Marshall found that the leaders of UHW engaged in "financial malpractice" by transferring funds to a nonprofit organization to be used to fund legal disputes with the international, he did not recommend that SEIU establish a trusteeship based on those actions.

Rather, Marshall had recommended imposing a trusteeship if the local refused to abide by and cooperate with a January 2009 IEB decision that calls for the creation of a statewide local for long-term care workers that would include 65,000 UHW members along with workers from two other locals.
In ordering the trusteeship, Stern said the local had not fully complied with the conditions set forth by Marshall.

UHW responded that it would comply with many of the conditions but officials insisted that the long-term care members be allowed to vote on whether to switch to another local.

Addressing the teleconference, Angela Glasper, a former UHW elected leader, who is employed as a service clerk at Kaiser Permanente, said for decades "health care workers in California have wanted to be part of a democratic, progressive movement that would raise standards for caregivers and the patients and residents we serve. Events over the last several days have proven that's not possible in SEIU," she said, adding that health care workers "deserve to be part of a union that they control democratically, not one that is led by a handful of outsiders from Washington, D.C."

Existing UHW officers will serve "on a volunteer basis" to form a founding committee for the new union, and will select temporary officers, Rosselli said. "Some months in the future" there will be elections of officers, he said.

Rosselli said there are lots of things that the union leaders still need to figure out about the new organization. But, he said, "we will put together a plan to give members of UHW the opportunity to join that union.

Under federal labor law, workers may only switch unions during a specified window period prior to the expiration of their collective bargaining agreement. While there are numerous contracts that UHW has with employers that are up for renegotiation this year, Rosselli said he did not know how many UHW members would be able to join the new union.

SEIU Asked About New Group.
During a conference call later Jan. 28 with SEIU officials about the UHW trusteeship, when asked about the new organization that is being formed, SEIU Executive Vice President Mary Kay Henry said it "makes no sense" for a group to "create another vehicle to represent workers who are already organized." She added there are 9 million health care workers who are not organized, adding health care workers will be further divided with a new union.

There was some disagreement between the former UHW leaders and the new trustees as to what employers are being told about the situation. Rosselli said members have told him that employers are telling their workers that they have been instructed by SEIU not to recognize the current stewards, and not to bargain with the current representatives. Rather, they are to deal only with SEIU.
But, Regan said all the union stewards are "remaining in place" and it is his intent to work with the "member leaders." He said he had been in touch with some employers to let them know that the full-time staff of UHW are on a short, paid, leave of absence.

Regan said he and Medina plan to restore "confidence, accountability, and trust" with the members of UHW and "clarify the mission" of the local.

He said he plans to make sure that going forward the local is "solely focused on the needs of health care workers. We are now fully engaged and on top of representing members of UHW," he said, adding there will be "no gap in collective bargaining or representation of members."

Medina said he and Regan have been talking with thousands of UHW members and after discussions with many board members he is confident that "they want to get this chapter behind them."

When asked about reports that many UHW members want to disaffiliate from SEIU, Regan said it is up to the members to decide whether they want to be in the union. However, he added that the international has an obligation to make a case to the members that the only way they are going to do better is to be together in a single, focused, powerful union.

Disapproval Expressed by Observers.
Several academics and labor observers expressed strong disagreement with SEIU's decision to trustee the local. In interviews conducted between Jan. 22 and Jan. 28, several said the fight is over the democratic rights of union members.

Herman Benson, the founder of the Association for Union Democracy, told BNA Jan. 28 that it is the "height of absurdity on the facts that are there to disrupt a huge section of the union and destroy it."
Benson said Rosselli had agreed to many of the conditions imposed by the IEB, but wanted to "introduce several democratic procedures," which he called "reasonable." Nonetheless, Stern went ahead and imposed the trusteeship anyway, he said.

Benson said the Marshall report was a "flawed decision," and said it was an "outrage" for him to say that Rosselli could not oppose the "slicing off of 65,000 of his members." He pointed out that the jurisdictional dispute was not even a charge that Marshall was asked to consider during the trusteeship hearing.

When asked about Rosselli's announcement of the creation of a new union, Benson said he did not see "any other option."

Noting that the only time workers could switch to the new union would be during the window period before contract expiration, he said it would be "difficult" to create the new union and the leaders would have to have "real sticking power and keep at it for a couple of years."

Trusteeships Historically Used for Serious Crimes.
Most trusteeships were designed for situations when a "nefarious group or clique at the top that does something wrong," according to Nelson Lichtenstein, a history professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara and director of the Center for Work, Labor and Democracy.

He noted that last summer SEIU placed into trusteeship United Long Term Care Workers Local 6434, SEIU's largest local in California, and in December permanently banned local President Tyrone Freeman from holding union office or membership (230 DLR A-5, 12/1/08 ). The move followed an outside hearing officer report that Freeman violated the SEIU constitution and local bylaws in "a pattern of financial malpractice and self-dealing." Freeman was ordered to make restitution of more than $1.1 million of misappropriated local funds.

"This one [UHW] is unusual in that you have, almost to every mind, and Marshall says this as well, a big, vibrant democratic local which has a policy disagreement with the international," Lichtenstein said. UHW is "a model local in many ways," he said, adding that "it seems to me that in situations like this that an international should be extra hesitant in destroying or ... dividing up a local of that sort. The absolute goal of the labor movement is an energized, localized leadership."

Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told BNA prior to the imposition of the trusteeship that "the world is watching " the parties in the dispute. Unlike the Freeman situation, "there is no evidence of corruption in UHW, and you have this huge, huge deal," she said.

Going Independent.
Prior to Rosselli's announcement about the creation of a new union, Lichtenstein told BNA that he thought UHW could become independent, "but it wouldn't be easy because there'd be multiple jurisdiction disputes and decertification elections."

"I think it is true that UHW could succeed. But it's also clear that SEIU, by sending in the troops, they're going to fight these things and it's going to be messy," he said.

The California Nurses Association disaffiliated from the American Nurses Association in 1995, and the Maine State Nurses Association and Massachusetts Nurses Association in 2001 pulled away from ANA, "and they're all surviving perfectly well," according to Rose Ann DeMoro, CNA's executive director. DeMoro criticized SEIU under Stern. "We see SEIU as a management surveillance team. They will do anything. There is no bar that is too low for them to go to get dues. It's all dues chasing," she said.
Like a corporation, DeMoro said, Stern is making a "hostile takeover of a smaller business in his model. Workers are objects of trade; he is outsourcing representation in call centers and sees no contradiction between workers' needs and corporate demands."

Stan Greer, spokesman for the National Right to Work Committee, said Stern "has very specific ideas about how he wants the union to be run" and is not a hands-off leader.

"Now it seems like Andy Stern and the people working most closely with him are grabbing at any pretext to get rid of local union officials that they don't think are on the team," Greer said. "I have seen a variety of abuses but there's a distrust of the officers of the affiliated unions [that] is of a level I don't recall seeing before."

Disparate Treatment.
Bronfenbrenner said the trusteeship raises the question of "disparate treatment" among SEIU locals. In the rest of the country, SEIU "health care locals have been kept together and in California health care locals have been divided," Bronfenbrenner said. "The problem is there is a consistency question."
Comparing New York, where 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East represents all health care workers, and California, which is being split, Bronfenbrenner said, "[W]hy is what's good for one not good for the other? And that's the question."

Bronfenbrenner said a strong fight can be expected. "When you have a group of people who have a very strong sense of identity and solidarity who feel aggrieved they fight back even harder," she said. Whether right or not, "they have champions, this has just given them even more champions than they ever had."

Posted by SEIU SMART at 8:24 PM, February 3, 2009

 

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