Tuesday, November 11, 2008

California labor intellectuals call on Andy Stern to respect constructive dissent in SEIU

AUD recently received this letter by email:

An Open Letter of Concern to Andy Stern
About United Healthcare Workers-West
From California Educators, Academics, Writers and Worker Advocates

November 9, October 2008

Mr. Andy Stern
Service Employees International Union
1800Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036

Dear Andy Stern:

On May Day, 2008, more than 100 scholars, writers and activists, many of them longstanding supporters of SEIU, wrote to you and urged reconsideration of any plan to place United Healthcare Workers-West in trusteeship. That public letter said: "Putting UHW under trusteeship would send a very troubling message and be viewed, by many, as a sign that internal democracy is not valued or tolerated within SEIU."

The letter endorsers were told, at the time, that no such plan existed and that UHW statements about this matter were simply not true. Such reassurances were received in a personal message from SEIU EVPs Eliseo Medina and Gerry Hudson and in a letter signed by 47 other SEIU leaders.  As recently as July, the threat of an international union take-over of UHW was dismissed as a "myth" by SEIU IEB member Stephen Lerner (in an exchange of views posted on MRZine).

Now, we've learned that you indeed ordered UHW trusteeship hearings. These began in San Mateo on September 26 and 27 and are scheduled to resume and conclude next week in San Jose. Moreover, you have gone ahead despite an enormous outpouring of opposition from UHW members and others, including the protest in Manhattan Beach by 5,000 SEIU members opposed to the arbitrary removal of 60,000 UHW-represented workers to Local 6434 in Los Angeles. More than 8000 members protested at the San Mateo hearings. At the same time, the media has reported very serious allegations of corruption involving Local 6434 President Tyrone Freeman, which have led to his removal by your office and an on-going investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor that could lead to criminal charges against him. It would appear that those home care and nursing home workers faced with the possibility of forced transfer from UHW to Freeman's local have had good reason to resist.

We in California have, of course, a great deal at stake in the outcome of these disputes. The trusteeship fears of UHW seem to be very well-founded. While a clean-up of 6434 may require outside intervention, we believe that a simultaneous, unjustified take- over of 150,000 member UHW would be a disaster for the California labor movement (and SEIU nationally).  It would further disrupt current contract negotiations with major health care
employers, while also impeding much-needed political action to defend state worker jobs in health, education and other public services. As the May Day letter endorsers did last spring, we urge you to "avoid such a tragedy"--by respecting the autonomy and constructive dissent of UHW.


Frank Bardacke, Writer, Labor Educator and Founder, Third World Teaching Resource Center
Martin Bennett, Professor of History, Santa Rosa Junior College, Executive Board, North Bay Labor Council
Jeff Blankfort, Radio Host, KZYX, Mendocino Public Radio
Gillian C. Boal, Rare Book Conservator, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley
Iain A. Boal, Professor of Social History, UC Santa Cruz
Gray Brechin, Visiting Scholar in the Department of Geography, UC Berkeley; Project Scholar of the California Living New Deal Project.
Bob Brenner, Director, Center for Social Theory & Comparative History, UCLA
Summer Brenner, Environmental Justice Activist, Berkeley
Charles Briggs, Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley
James Brook, poet, San Francisco
Jose Calderon, Professor, Sociology and Chicano Studies, Pitzer College
Jamie Court, President, Consumer Watchdog
Mike Davis, Writer and Professor, Creative Writing, UC Riverside
A. J. Duffy, President, United Teachers of Los Angeles
Judy Dugan, Research Director, Consumer Watchdog
Barry Eidlin, Sociology, University of California, Berkeley
Richard Flacks, Professor of Sociology, University of California Santa Barbara
Jack Gerson, Executive Board and Bargaining Team, Oakland Education Association
David Goldberg, Treasurer, United Teachers of Los Angeles
Charlene Harrington, Professor of Sociology and Nursing, UC San Francisco 
Dan Hodges Chair, Health Care for All-California
Ramsey Kanaan, PM Press, Oakland
John Kramer, Professor of Political Science, California State University Sonoma
Karl Kramer, Treasurer, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement - San Francisco, Campaign Co-director, San Francisco Living Wage Coalition
Jack Kurzweil, Former President (San Jose State University Chapter), 
California Faculty Association, SEIU 1983
Sasha Lilley, Program Director, KPFA
Dr. Arthur Lipow, Center for Global Peace & Democracy, Alameda
Jeff Lustig, Professor, Political Science Dept. CSU Sacramento.
Joseph Matthews, Attorney
Nathanael Matthiesen, Sociology, University of California, Irvine
Tom Mertes, Administrator, Center for Social Theory & Comparative History, UCLA
Franco Moretti, Professor of Literature, Stanford University
Claudia Moura, Professor, Social Science, Santa Rosa Junior College
Betty Olson-Jones, President, Oakland Education Association
Raj Patel, Writer, Visiting Scholar, UC Berkeley
Richard Perry, J.D., Ph.D. Professor of Justice Studies
San Jose' State University
Vivian Price, Coordinator, Labor Studies, California State University, Dominguez Hills
Melvin Pritchard, Professor of History, West Valley College
Tom Reifer, Sociology, University of San Diego; Associate Fellow, Transnational Institute
Teri Reynolds, MD, PhD, Past delegate, Alameda County Medical Center Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU
Bill Shields, Chair, Community and Labor Studies, City College of San Francisco
Faith Simon, Mendocino Institute
Norman Solomon, Institute for Public Accuracy, Author, War Made Easy
Vanessa Tait, author, Poor Workers' Unions: Rebuilding Labor from Below,
Member, UPTE-CWA Local 9119, UC Berkeley
Kay Trimberger, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, California State University Sonoma
Richard A. Walker, Chair, California Studies Center, UC Berkeley
Katharine Wallerstein, Executive Director, The Global Commons Foundation
David Walls, Professor of Sociology, California State University, Sonoma
Michael Watts, Professor of Geography, UC Berkeley
Cal Winslow, Fellow, Environmental Politics, UC Berkeley, Director Mendocino Institute
Eddie Yuen, Author, editor and radio producer

*affiliations listed for identification purposes only


Anonymous said...

Here is the latest e-mail going around on the situation in California:

Trusteed Workers In California Form Independent Union

As former UHW staff members, we're writing to update you about the trusteeship of UHW as well as healthcare workers' recent founding of a new union here in California.

First, a quick update: On January 27, President Andy Stern imposed a trusteeship on UHW, thereby removing UHW's 100-member Executive Board, suspending its constitution, removing its officers, and appointing out-of-town trustees to run the union. An article from the Daily Labor Report offers more details and is especially interesting because it includes observations from labor analysts like Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University and Nelson Lichtenstein of the University of California Santa Barbara. Their comments underscore what's been widely understood about the effort to seize control of UHW - that there are no legitimate grounds for trusteeing UHW and that the trusteeship is simply a move by Stern to eliminate his political opponents inside SEIU. In the article, Bronfenbrenner points to the profound contradictions in Stern's stated rationale for the trusteeship. A second observer calls Stern's action "the height of absurdity." A third calls the former UHW "a model union in many ways... a big, vibrant democratic local which has a policy disagreement with the international."

On January 28, the day after the trusteeship, UHW's 100-member Executive Board voted unanimously to form a new union independent of SEIU - the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). Since then, tens of thousands of workers have flocked to the new union in an unprecedented exodus from SEIU. In just the first week after NUHW's founding, a majority of the workers from more than 100 hospitals and nursing homes signed NLRB certification petitions requesting to leave SEIU so they can join NUHW. These petitions, which were filed with the NLRB, cover more than 25,000 workers and are the largest such filing in California's history. Since then, petitions covering approximately 5,000 more workers have been filed. Workers accomplished this feat without the help of a single paid staff person. Currently, NUHW is an entirely volunteer organization that relies on thousands of dedicated rank-and-file leaders as well as more than 120 former UHW staff who quit their jobs and are volunteering to help build a democratic, member-led union.

The mass exodus of workers from SEIU is a totally predictable response to Stern's actions. For months, UHW members pleaded with Stern to let them continue to govern their own union. More than 125,000 UHW members signed petitions telling Stern not to trustee their local. More than 8,000 protested at SEIU's trusteeship hearings. Staffers assigned to the trusteeship team are now facing the predictable anger of UHW's members. Members are refusing to let out-of-town organizers set foot in their facilities. International officials have had to hire off-duty cops to guard the offices that they forcibly seized from UHW members. SEIU officials hide behind office doors chained shut with heavy locks and guarded by gun-toting officers. For more reports about what's happening inside the trusteeship, go to http://perezstern.blogspot.com (Today's post includes a report from an SEIU staff person assigned to the trusteeship who quit her job.)

Meanwhile, SEIU officials have launched an aggressive campaign to stop workers from leaving SEIU. These SEIU leaders are working with some of California's worst anti-union employers to threaten, suspend and even fire rank-and-file workers who circulate petitions to join NUHW. In the words of one UHW steward: "This is like a very bad marriage. We filed for a divorce. SEIU is like an abusive husband who's trying to stop us from going." Meanwhile, each day UHW members are filing more and more certification petitions and are insisting that SEIU officials respect their decision.

For more information, please go to www.nuhw.org.

Open said...

Is there any truth to the press release from SEIU's UHW trustees Eliseo Medina and David Regan stating that the NLRB has said it will ignore the tens of thousands of workers' signatures, will not hold elections and instead will actually go after the NUHW founders? Is this true? If so, how can it be stopped?