by Eliseo Medina
I welcome the opportunity to post on the DSA Talking Union blogsite and I want to thank Brother Garver for inviting me to do so. I hope, to clear up the record about the chronology of events between SEIU and our union’s local United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW).
This disagreement, that is being played out now, has roots that reach back almost a decade, when our union’s collective leadership examined our internal organization and came up with a proposal that would make sure that SEIU would grow and prosper so that we could have a real impact on the daily lives of our members and others.
In 2000, we adopted the New Strength Unity Plan that realigns our local unions so that our members and potential members can take better advantage of their full potential as workers in a difficult economy. This was a several-prong process, including extensive member engagement through field hearings and polling, deliberation by a representative committee of our union and finally, a compilation of a detailed list of recommendations that won the support of the entire union leadership, including San Francisco-based United Healthcare Workers-West head Sal Rosselli. In fact, United Healthcare Workers-West was among the new locals created by the reorganization early on. At the time, its leaders, including Sal Rosselli, actively supported the dissolution of Locals 399 and 250 in 2005 to create UHW, and this led to the appointment of Sal Rosselli as president.
The January 9th vote by our union’s International Executive Board was a continuation of the process to unite home care and nursing home workers from three SEIU local unions into a single union local to create the nation’s largest and most powerful organization of long term care workers – 240,000 strong, reaffirming the plan that was set out by our union way back in 2000.
In the words of Leonard Page, former General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, who wrote an opinion on this for our International Executive Board: “By implementing its jurisdictional policy, SEIU has been able to create local unions of the size and resources to successfully mount the organizing, political and collective bargaining campaigns that have delivered for members…. My recommendation is that, for the present, California long term care members should have their own SEIU local union devoted exclusively to the needs of these workers.”
SEIU has charged me to make sure that our members in California understand the process and benefit from it. That’s why, in this next month, I will be working with members in California to ensure that this new plan will continue to accommodate members’ concerns before I present a final recommendation in February to our union’s International Executive Board. In almost every case, locals have accepted and fully cooperated with the jurisdiction decisions and our members have grown in strength. I hope that UHW members will also realize the strength that comes in numbers as together we build a union that can meet the difficult challenges before us.
Homecare workers hold an important place for SEIU is as a union and for me, personally. When our international union made a commitment to organize home care workers as a way to raise standards in this sector, the entire national union fought intensely to pass laws to allow home care workers to organize and we bargained hard to ensure contracts to raise folks out of poverty so that they can provide for themselves and their families.
The decision to unite all long term care workers into one unified local couldn’t come at a more critical moment. California‘s budget crisis and the sweeping cuts Gov. Schwarzenegger has proposed to the IHSS home care program and other critical long term care funding, means that long term care workers are facing cuts in hours for home care consumers and rollbacks of gains they have earned in pay back to minimum wage.
Under the reorganization, California long term care workers will be among the most powerful political and economic forces in the state – positioned to fight draconian budget and wage cuts and to press for meaningful long term budget solutions in Sacramento and to continue to bargain strong contracts for our members and new members to come.
DSA members know better than anyone that without a strong and growing labor movement, we simply cannot bring social justice to America. As an honorary chair of DSA, I welcome this dialogue.
Eliseo Medina, an honorary chair of DSA, is an executive vice president of SEIU where he is leading SEIU’s efforts to organize workers in 17 states. Medina’s career as a labor activist began in 1965 when, as a 19-year-old grape-picker, he participated in the historic United Farm Workers’ strike in Delano, California. He worked alongside Cesar Chavez, eventually serving as the United Farm Workers’ national vice president.