Paul Garver is disappointed because I did not respond more positively to reports that Andy Stern's ethics commission might request my comments for proposals to strengthen the SEIU ethics code. He writes, "Why don't we accept Andy Stern's offer ...in the spirit of giving this process a genuine test?"
But what is there to test? An ethical practices code can be helpful in resolving ambiguities and fine points. Can a business agent accept a $25 holiday gift from an employer? $50? $1000? Can a union rep. hold stock in a major corporation represented by the union? In a small family owned business? (The SEIU already has a code of ethics.) But that's not what triggered this moral crisis in the SEIU. We are confronted here essentially by the outright misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars of union money to enrich union leaders and their friends and family. Does a bank need an ethical practices code to inform tellers that it's wrong to steal money from the till? Is it necessary now to remind SEIU officers that they must not steal, and that we really, really mean it?
From that standpoint, all this talk about appointing a new commission would be a simple waste of time, but then, time exists to be wasted. But this is more than a time-waster. It is an evasion. The real problem is that these officials were originally appointed, not elected, to their powerful positions by Andy Stern himself; they were endowed with authority over mega locals and a staff which they, in turn could appoint. And in their locals, as in the SEIU, an atmosphere of intimidation has been created which makes members, appointed staff, and even elected local officers afraid to speak out. In that atmosphere, where democracy recedes. corruption festers. The problem in the SEIU is not the lack of an ethical practices code, it is the suppression of the democratic spirit. At least, that's how I look at it.
But there's even more is at stake. The problem is the undermining of democracy. And while Andy Stern shifts attention to an ethical practices code, he himself is making the problem of democracy even worse! He is now trying to destroy Sal Rosselli, president of United Healthcare Workers-West, who criticizes his policies. In fact, Rosselli has been the only critic with enough influence and resources to constitute any serious opposition to Stern. Unlike Stern's own appointees, Rosselli has never been charged with trying to enrich himself or friends. The attack on Rosselli derives from his political opposition to Stern.
And so, because the talk of a new ethics code is a waste of time, and is an evasion of the real problem of democracy, and because it can serve as a cover for a new attack on democracy, and because I fear being used in any effort to divert attention from these sordid facts, I could only react with skepticism.