Wednesday, September 10, 2008

SEIU needs more democracy not more codes

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 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.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Benson, You are right on the money on this. SEIU is so good at diverson when the issues are things they do not want to discuss. There is no true democracy in SEIU and hasn't been for quite some time. As an "ex" steward, vice president and president of a local (elected by the workers I was proud to represent for 5 terms as president), I resigned in the middle of my last term because of all the deception practiced in this union. I am and will forever be pro worker, pro labor....but I will never give one hard earned penny to a union organization that has become worse than the bosses we fight against..and the stories I could tell!!! SEIU will never recover until everyone sitting in positions at the International level are gone. And even then, it will take a very long time for this union to regain the trust and integrity that we held for so many years. My hats off to Sal for staying strong.....he has and always will have my full support!

Anonymous said...

On: "Rosselli has been the only critic with enough influence and resources to constitute any serious opposition to Stern." Are the resources just dues money that was paid by us, the service workers?

Is Stern just making us spend all our money and taking over our local so we don't talk back to him? Can we break off from the international and keep our money in California?

Anonymous said...

You are right, Mr. Benson. We need democracy in SEIU and we don't get it as part of the international.

Anonymous said...

NAGE, Dave Holway, Susana Segat: who's next?

reetajenet said...
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