Sunday, August 31, 2008

Andy Stern is slipping off the pedestal

By imposing a trusteeship and a monitorship over two mega West Coast locals, Andy Stern, SEIU international president, subjects twenty percent of the entire international membership to his disciplinary domination. They make up almost half the union's membership in health care, the SEIU's most important area of concentration. Two locals, but how different their stories! In one, Stern initiates action against a rival and critic. In the other, he is forced to act against one of his own key supporters who stands accused of defrauding his local of around a million dollars. Disruption on this scale might normally reveal an international administration in disarray. Ironically, however, just three months before, Stern emerged from the union's convention with his program overwhelmingly endorsed and his presidential powers expanded.

In one case, Stern has imposed monitors on the way to full trusteeship over the 150,000-member United Healthcare Workers-West. Its local president, Sal Rosselli has been a forthright critic of Stern’s policies. The charges against Rosselli are based upon actions he is accused of taking in his battle with Stern. Neither he nor his colleagues are accused of trying to enrich themselves or anyone else. Stern’s move against Rosselli show that he is ready to exercise his constitutional powers as president to undermine, perhaps destroy, a political rival.

The other case is quite different. Stern has imposed a trusteeship over the 190,000-member United Long-Term Care Workers Local 6434. Its president Tyrone Freeman, accused of paying out around a million dollars of the local's money to enrich his friends and relatives, has stepped down temporarily. He is also accused of assuring his automatic “election” without opposition simply by making nominating requirements so difficult that no rival could qualify.

Freeman is more than a supporter of Stern; he is virtually a creation of Stern, who appointed him to head this huge local. How close to Stern? Just before the scandal broke, the Stern administration was about to transfer 65,000 members out of Rosselli’s local and turn them over to Freeman’s! And so, the protégé implanted in power by Stern, cultivated by Stern, and a close ally of Stern is forced to step aside, charged with arrant fraud.

The action against Rosselli’s UHC-W is particularly disquieting because for so many months Stern and his colleagues had adamantly denied that it would take place.

Back in May, on the eve of the SEIU national convention, when Stern first seemed to be threatening a trusteeship over Rosselli’s local, 101 pro-union writers, scholars, and educators wrote to Stern, “Putting UHW under trusteeship would…be viewed by many as a sign that internal democracy is not valued or tolerated within the SEIU.” Stern replied that he found their talk of trusteeship “puzzling.” In May, in a Federal suit against Rosselli and nine other UAW-W officers, the SEIU denied any intention of trusteeing the local. Its complaint informed the court, "In particular, in May 2007 the defendants began to fear, contrary to fact, that SEIU was planning to appoint a trustee to run the affairs of the local union and remove them from office...."

Forty-seven top SEIU leaders, including Dennis Rivera and George Gresham, who had succeeded Rivera as head of Local 1199 in New York, wrote that the letter of the 101 writers was full of misinformation and misunderstanding. “On the specific issue you raise, we agree that trusteeships should never be used to limit democratic debate in any union. In the case of the SEIU your letter addressed a straw man since no such retaliatory trusteeship is under consideration nor would we ever approve one. In fact, the only talk of trusteeship has come from UHW-W itself. ”

A straw man? Their revulsion against retaliatory trusteeship seems to have been enough to give pause to Stern, enough to delay him for four months but not to stop him. Stern was free to move because their disapproval could be ignored. He can ride over Rosselli and he can override the misgivings of 47 top SEIU leaders. Rosselli is in danger because he would not remain subservient to Stern. Were those 47 leaders consulted before Rosselli was attacked? Did they approve the looming trusteeship?

On August 25, Rosselli got the message from Stern, "Notice of Hearing on Whether a Trustee Should be Appointed at SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West." Pending the hearing, Stern dispatched two monitors to watch over the local's affairs.

How the scene has changed in the four years since an earlier SEIU convention! Then, it was Stern, labor’s white knight, the progressive champion of the underdog, the fresh new face of organized labor, open to new ideas, a new voice. Then, inside the SEIU, a unanimous vision. Now? Second thoughts are inevitable.


Sonoma County said...

I'm a UHW-W IHSS homecare worker in Northern CA. There are about 3500 of us in our bargaining unit and our hourly wage is $11.20 going up to $11.50/hr on Oct. 1. The local that Andy Stern wants to shove us into is stalled at about $9.00/hr. This is one of the many reasons we don't want to be forced into Local 6434.

UHW-W members have been targeted for months now by deceptive mailers and invasive recorded calls by the Int'l. and we're sick of seeing our dues money squandered on these lies. In an election year where so much is at stake, it's appalling that our time is tied up defending our local against Andy Stern instead of working on campaigns.

Andy Stern, his appointees and the SEIU executive board should resign and there should be independent elections for all positions with each union member having a vote. Anything less is an "injustice to all".

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of SEIU locals are led by solid hardworking officers and leaders -- and most in fact come out of the rank and file. Ten years ago, Stern had the gumption to take on the Bevonas within SEIU. Today, there is a blind eye turned toward the few corrupt leaders left and it puts the whole union in a negative light. Dave Holway, the president of NAGE, is probably the most egregious example. The national union instead of conducting a full-scale investigation into his well-documented history of feeding at the trough continues to reward him by placing more affiliates under his control -- at the very time that thousands of his existing members have decerted NAGE (and SEIU) because of his pathetic leadership.

Anonymous said...

My comment will be very brief.

I find it quite interesting that if you look closely, Sterns' leadership is not much different than the current Bush administration. He can play the role of unionist, but in fact he is nothing more than a power hungry authoritarian by nature.

Melanie said...

The corruption is every where. I am involved in a group of members in Las Vegas who have been working to expose the corruption within our seiu local 1107 for more than a year. In fact the DOL has found the local guilty on four counts of tampering with our local elections and have ordered a new election of several of the at large offices but our local is in such disarray I am not sure it can be fixed. Unlike Sal who has the resources to take over his local, we are penniless but have launched a very vocal protest and has led to the resignation of the executive director Jane Mcalevy who was sent to our local by Andy Stern to work his new agenda on us. We have basically been placed in an unoffical trusteeship by having tempory Executive directors coming in to assist us and we are on the second one since July. I wish all fighting Andy much luck in the future.

Melanie said...

As a member of seiu 1107, I find it interesting that we have been having the same fight here in las vegas as the california workers. A group of rank and file members have banded together and filed DOL charges which resulted in the finding of guilt in seiu running of a rigged election of officers in Sept of 2007 and will be rerun this November. We were able to cause enough trouble to obtain the resignation of the Executive Director Jane Mc Alevey who had been sent here in 2004 by Andy Stern to work his magic. We have been taken over by tempory ED's and in fact we are on the second one since july. Unless major reform happens and Sal is successful I feel that seiu is imploding and members will have to seek other unions to protect their rights of collective bargaining, not a union who makes deals with the boss.

Anonymous said...

I'm a member of nage which is a national union that is part of seiu. SEIU still needs to continue cleaning up "general unionism" within its own ranks. My union is made of mass. state workers, cops, emts, federal workers, group home workes in Hawaii, spread all over the country. We are a minor player amongst federal unions, one of the smallest police unions etc. Why SEIU does'nt give the federal workers to AFGE and the police to the dominant police unions is beyond me. Below is a story about our president. I'm not saying that general unionism leads to corruption. But a point can be made that when a union is spread so thin both geographically and by sector, there is little opportunity for rank and file members to exert any influence on their union. That has been my experience in NAGE. There is much that seiu should be doing to clean up this mess.

Good job(s), good wages
By Steve Bailey | April 29, 2005

If state workers represented by the National Association of Government Employees are unhappy with their new contract -- pay increases that average less than 2 percent a year -- they can do what their overpaid union boss does: work a second job.

David Holway, the gruff 6-foot-3 president of Quincy-based NAGE, is becoming a model for working stiffs everywhere. If CEOs can get overpaid for running their places into the ground, then why can't the working man? Be like Dave and you can get yours, too. Holway is doing it not once but twice -- and at the same time. Where do I sign up?

As previously reported here, Holway made $240,147 last year as head of a union with just 46,000 members. That is slightly more than the president of his international, Andrew Stern, made for running the entire Service Employees International Union, which has 35 times the members that Holway's SEIU local has. Stern is one of the labor movement's most dominant players; under Holway, NAGE has lost $3.7 million over the last two years.

Holway calls himself a reformer, but he got his job the old-fashioned way: by helping to depose his predecessor and onetime pal, NAGE founder Ken Lyons, a union man with his own considerable baggage. If Holway is a union reformer, it is a better bet than any you'll get at Suffolk Downs that he is the only union reformer anywhere who runs a horse breeders association on the side -- and gets paid handsomely for it. NAGE and the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders Association, an unlikely pairing, do have at least two things in common: Both are run by Holway, and both are hurting financially.

Neither Holway nor the SEIU will talk about his second job. ''Have fun," Holway told me, and hung up. ''Good luck on your story," says SEIU spokesman Ben Boyd. ''I'll have no comment from a SEIU perspective on Mr. Holway."

Let's go to the records then. According to the organization's website, board minutes, and the state auditor's office, Holway is the executive director of the breeders association, a group designed to encourage thoroughbred breeding in Massachusetts. The group's website lists Holway's home -- the one in Cambridge, not the one in Martha's Vineyard -- as its mailing address. Suzanne Swaim, who answers the phone at the association, at first confirmed that Holway is the executive director, but then called back in a panic to say he was only ''covering" for his sick brother who is executive director. Not so, says the state auditor's office, which earlier this year completed an audit: David Holway is the executive director -- even if he doesn't want to talk about it.

It is good work if you can get it. The group is funded through a small levy on races at Suffolk Downs. In 2003, for instance, the group received $1.5 million from Suffolk Downs, the auditor's report says. The group's website notes that Holway, a longtime lobbyist who cut his teeth on Beacon Hill working for a fellow Cambridge homeboy, former House Speaker Charles Flaherty, worked ''without charge" to help secure that funding. What it doesn't note, but the auditor's report does, is that Holway gets 7.5 percent of the group's revenue from the track, or about $112,000 in 2003 using that formula. He would have been paid about $106,000 the previous year using the same formula.

On top of that, the state auditor's report found Holway had been overpaid by the association twice in the past few years, including nearly $11,000 in 2001. As for the thoroughbred association itself, the audit found the group's checking accounts were a shambles. The bottom line, according to the auditor's report: The association's ''ability to meet its financial obligations, and its future, is questionable."

If the worst does happen at the thoroughbred association, Dave Holway will still have his day job to fall back on. The union members who pay his salary should be so lucky.

Anonymous said...

Much of what is happening to Sal Roselli and the honest, hard working members of that local is and has been happening at Local 1107 in Las Vegas. As a member of MUD, Members for Union Democracy, I, Melanie, along with other MUDders, have had many bogus charges filed against us (theft, bribery, racketeering, conduct unbecoming a member!!) in an effort to silence our opposition. Our rigged elections is how 'obedient' members got their places on our Executive Board. SEIU's public image is a SHAM. Nothing they say can be believed. Andy Stern is laying the ground work for his future.

fries said...

Shame, shame, on you! Stern how could you not know of your cronies embezling from SEIU. How dare your executive committee not know! Step down! Step down! mmmm are they protecting u, STERN? Now trustee ship of uhw? claiming of missing funds? Well stern u know it was thrown out court, i read the full court reportings. You lie. Some arrests should be done, lets wait and see.

Thomas said...

There's another side to the MUD story. Jane McAlevey was (a) very good for (that is, with) Las Vegas health care workers, and (b) not so nuts about Andy Stern either. Her book is "Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell," you'll find lots of reviews via Google.