Wednesday, August 06, 2008

SEIU needs a public review board

...without it, fair play is impossible.

A few members of Sal Rosselli’s own local, United Healthcare Workers-West, have brought charges against him and his administration, accusing them of assorted acts of retaliation against supporters of Andy Stern, international president of the Service Employees International Union. The complainants fear that they can never get a fair trial in their own local because the local is controlled by Rosselli, and he is embroiled in an intense internal union battle with Stern. They ask Stern to use his power as international president to bypass the local trial process, assume original jurisdiction, and proceed with a trial under international auspices. Stern has agreed. And so the trial of Rosselli will proceed under the aegis of Stern, his bitter enemy.

But if Rosselli’s critics can’t get a fair trial under Rosselli, how can Rosselli be guaranteed a fair trial under Stern?

Someone has written that neither Stern nor Rosselli is an angel. True, angels are so few. The difference here, however, is that one non-angel has the overwhelming union constitutional power to damage the other. But not vice versa.

It was already clear before the recent SEIU convention. It obvious now: The SEIU needs a public review board.

The SEIU does not have to invent the wheel. The United Auto Workers has had a public review board for fifty years. The board is a kind of Supreme Court within the union to guarantee due process. It has the authority to overturn disciplinary decisions of the union’s top international executive board and president. Most important of all, it is composed of independent persons, pro-labor, civil libertarians, eminent in their own right in their own professions. And because they are independent and outside the union power structure, not beholden to the union establishment, the board and its members serve as an important deterrent to arbitrary authoritarianism.

Which is precisely what the SEIU needs to protect union democracy at this point in its history where two sides are bitterly pitted against each other. We have no way of knowing how the newest charges against Rosselli will end. We do know that the need to defend due process will continue. The SEIU needs an impartial public review board, not simply to assure genuine due process for Rosselli, but to protect internal union democracy for all.


Anonymous said...

As I think about the problem, I believe the real problem stems from lack of International Oversight of Local Union spending combined with the merger of Locals into mega locals with vast resources. While the espoused theory in creating mega locals was to have increased resources to represent members, unfortunately some corrupt leaders saw it as an easy way to enrich their own pockets. While Stern maintains a strong hand over Local Union policy (spending at least 20% of post per capita dues on organizing, defining a mandatory staff structure in organizing and politics), there is no International oversight on day to day spending. SEIU at the International level audits are geared to insure that the 20% is spent on organizing, that the proper per capita dues are paid to the international and the proper amounts are paid into the retirement funds for staff.

As a former SEIU Local President, I believe that President Stern should expouse direct election of all International Officers by the members.

When I was on the SEIU
Executive Board I was proud to move to stop SEIU paying salaries to the IEB. That was passed at the 2004 convention but took Stern and company until this last convention to implement. Hard to believe!

And, I agree with a Public Review Board. My local went into Trusteeship that was mostly a political trusteeship. There are no fair hearing structures within SEIU. Stern appoints the Executive Board. Of course it is ratified by the Convention as is Stern's election. While the IEB is composed of bright forward thinking Local leaders, they all support Stern. Hence it is impossible to fight a Trusteeship. I was the first elected President coming out of Trusteeship. (SEIU gave huge amounts of Financial support to my opponent.) And, I thank AUD for helping me move a progressive, fiscally sound and member driven local through three terms!

Anonymous said...

While I think Benson's suggestion is valid theoretically, as a former SEIU organizer I believe it will never come about under a Stern administration unless Stern appoints (either directly or through gaming the selection committee) personal friends and admirers to at least 50% of the public review board and/or engineers loopholes in the board's bylaws that allow Stern to override or ignore their findings.

SEIU under Stern has proved adept at exploiting the appearance of democratic structures while perverting all democratic processes. There's no reason to think that instituting a public review board would be any different (and might actually make things worse if it just gives him and cronies further political cover) unless it falls deus ex machina from the sky, staffed with the purely objective and highly experienced, and equipped with the power needed to thwart Stern's authoritarian goals.