Communiques from SEIU’s California War

by Paul Garver with reports by Alexandra Early and Eliseo Medina

We take no delight in reporting on the tragic, but all too predictable, course that the escalating confrontation between SEIU and its trusteed local United Heath Care Workers-West is taking in California. Here are conflicting versions from two protagonists in the internal war.

Alexandra Early is a former UHW Representative and a shop steward for its staff union. Her report on her confrontation with SEIU Deputy Trustee Debbie Schneider outside SEIU’s Alameda office when laid-off UHW staff tried to attend an SEIU “all-staff” meeting follows. (View a video).

Eliseo Medina is SEIU’s Co-Trustee for UHW who previously contributed to this blog on the conflict. On 5 February he issued an offical SEIU press statement on the “Rogue Organization’s Attempt to Destabilize UHW, ” which also follows.

Questions from a Laid Off UHW Staffer

-by Alexandra Early
Former UHW staff rep and USW steward

alexandraearly_coI am one of the three United Staff Workers (UHW staff union) stewards who participated in the Feb 4 action at SEIU headquarters and were laid off by SEIU later that day (view a video). During our action, we were verbally assailed by the anti-union boss of the plumbing or contracting company SEIU had hired to do work on its office. SEIU officials were too chicken to even open the door for their hired handymen when they saw the large crowd of us outside. The first thing they did was call the Alameda police and start video taping us through the closed glass doors.

While we waited to be let in to the previously announced “all staff meeting,” the visibly annoyed head contractor yelled: “You welfare recipients, go get another job!” So we told him we were all employees of the union. “I hate unions!” he said.”I am 110% against unions. You are all a bunch of maggots, and lazy! Go get another job!” We told him that he was working for a union, and that did shut him up. But it doesn’t seem right that the biggest union in the country couldn’t find a union contractor? Would they chalk that one up to the confusion of their trusteeship, as well?

Before we were threatened with arrest for trespassing, my coworkers and I got the chance to address Deputy Trustee Debbie Schneider, a member of SEIU’s International Executive Board and former director of its Global Organizing Partnerships unit. She came outside her new office, surrounded and protected by police officers. We introduced her to a union steward that had been terminated, 2 days after his probationary period ended. She said, “I don’t even know who you are. There have been no layoffs.” Yet, 6 or 7 of us who attended this action and spoke to her were laid off that very evening via email to our staff union president. A few of us found out about our lay-off first from our former lead organizer at UHW who had resigned right after the trusteeship. I received a letter the next day, February 5, saying I was no longer employed. It read: “you have been released from employment, effective February 3.” It was signed by none other than Debbie Schneider and dated February 3, the day before she said there were no layoffs.

I feel lucky that I was laid off because,unlike my coworkers who were called back to work, I don’t have to betray UHW members in order to keep my job. I am not being monitored at all times as I am forced to phone-bank members using a script that reads something like this: “SEIU is great! We are all so happy they took over the union against the will of the members! Now we can get back to ‘the real work of the union’! Well not really right now, because union reps aren’t hardly allowed out of the Alameda office, but soon, real soon! If you have any further questions call this 1-800 number and leave a message! Thanks!”

A friend of mine is on the verge of quitting, like so many others, because of how she has been treated by her new SEIU employers. As they phonebank members, they have an out-of-town SEIU “warrior” by their side listening to every word and they have been told that they must, to keep their jobs, sign a letter to their members praising the trusteeship. My friend was asked by a steward to attend a grievance meeting yesterday for a terminated UHW-represented worker. When she told her SEIU bosses she had to go to this labor-management meeting, they said “umm, well, that’s not really allowed right now.” She insisted and they agreed she could attend, but only with an SEIU monitor. On the car ride, the monitor was stone silent, not even asking about the details of the grievance.

Clearly, it is just as SEIU Co-Trustee and International EVP Dave Regan told us at a mandatory post-trusteeship staff meeting, after which we were all interrogated individually and sent back home on “administrative leave.” SEIU really does care about serving its members and doing “the real work of the union.” Right now, it seems that “the real work of the union” is treating its employees like criminals and “serving the members” means assessing stewards to find out who is loyal to the elected leadership of UHW and should be removed from their elected positions.

With each passing day, we get another three or four emails on our staff union list-serve from more reps or organizers who are resigning from the SEIU-run UHW because they can’t, in good conscience, do this kind of real union work and they are sick of bosses who are worse than the worst nursing home or hospital managers we have ever encountered. At least at convalescent centers, the administrators I dealt with would usually have the decency to call or meet personally with a worker they were firing, often with a steward present. A number of these former UHW staffers who have quit are joining the now-deposed elected leaders of UHW in organizing nursing home and hospital workers for NLRB votes to leave and join the independent National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

Before the trusteeship, I did not think I would want to spend my free time working with the same UHW staff supervisors who used to stress me out, during the long days I spent as a nursing home servicing rep. But now that I have seen first hand SEIU’s commitment to repressing its own employees and, more importantly, the democratic rights of so many members, I am committed to fighting the UHW occupiers and sending them back to Washington with a new understanding of what “the real work of the union” is.

———————————————————

Statement of UHW Trustee Eliseo Medina
“Rogue Organization’s Attempt to Destabilize UHW is Both Reckless and Feckless”
Los Angeles, 5 February

eliseo1“Today, I marched in the rain with over six hundred union members—nurses, home care workers, janitors, longshoreman, engineers, and others—united in our efforts to restore America’s prosperity and rebuild the middle class by passing the Employee Free Choice Act.

“All over the state of California, hardworking men and women are facing foreclosures, wage and benefit cuts, job losses and assaults on their dignity. All over this country, people are struggling for a voice on the job and a chance to make a better life for their families. In the words of United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) member Michelle Collins, “In this hard economy, a union and a union contract are the best protection workers have. No workers, including health caregivers, should face cruelty, abuse, or firing just because we exercise our right to form a union. We need free choice now.”

“It is therefore especially difficult to understand why as union members all over the country are united and hopeful about making change that will help all workers, the disgraced former leaders of Ms. Collins’ and Mr. Johnson’s 140,000 member local union are trying to tear it down.

“Sal Rosselli and the former officers of UHW are engaging in efforts to destabilize and undermine the contract protections that UHW members employed at Catholic Healthcare West hospital had secured less than 6 months ago. At a time when healthcare workers across the country are united in the work to make universal healthcare a reality, Rosselli instead is directly jeopardizing workers’ hard won gains and their union.

“Sal Rosselli and the former officers of UHW were removed after being found guilty of financial wrongdoing, misleading members and attempting to subvert the democratic processes of the union. Not even 18 hours after their removal from office, they claimed to have started a new organization whose main goal appears to be to divide and weaken the very local union they once took an oath to protect. One of Rosselli’s team confessed to the Los Angeles Times: “If we have to tear everything down to build it back up again, so be it.”

“There seems to be no bottom to the place where Rosselli and his crew are willing to sink.”

“It is both reckless and feckless to play games with workers’ lives. While our members like Sterling Johnson are concerned about the budget crisis and the welfare of their families, Sal Rosselli remains focused on his ego. Enough is enough.

“UHW is a principled and powerful, vibrant and democratic movement of healthcare workers, dedicated to the achievement of dignity and justice for all healthcare workers and quality, affordable healthcare for all. I call on Sal Rosselli and the former officers of UHW to respect their former union and cease their efforts that jeopardize the security and hard won gains of UHW’s members.”

8 Responses

  1. Socialists need to take a stand – if not as an organization, then at least as individuals. I personally take my stand with the rank and file California health care workers fighting for union democracy against authoritarian bureaucrats Stern and Medina.

  2. […] Communiques from SEIU’s California War Posted on February 9, 2009 by paulgarver […]

  3. I stand where Andy stands. (I’ll try to not step on his feet.)

  4. 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 http://www.nuhw.org

  5. This dispute is about one thing Sal Rosselli motives to be the president of a 390,000 member mega local, and his use of his members and some brainwashed staff as pawns in his internal political fight regarding jurisdiction over long term care workers.

    1. If Sal cared about workers not being “sold out” he shouldn’t of played ball with the alliance negotiations with nursing home operators by purposefully not organizing members to not fight to win a larger portion of nearly 1 billion dollars of ab1629 money. Your telling me a fighting union who loves to strike some how forgot to fight nursing home bosses from late 2005 until late 2006 when contracts were finally setteled? Even though anybody involved would tell you that workers were democratically screaming to take more escalating actions. Yet no real actions were taken except silly stickers and a petition here and there delivered to the boss called a march on the boss. There was an ability to strike alliance homes that had traditional full collective bargaining agreements to use as leverage. Why didn’t Sal end the nursing home alliance then when it mattered for members. Workers were obviously surprised and happy to win anywhere between $2.25 and $3.50 something they never seen, but what could they have gotten if they had of fought?? $5.00 His motives? Not to piss off the international before they made up there minds on Jurisdiction (which is strategic decisions on what’s best for long term care workers). Seiu is supposed to be one big family and is supposed to share staff between locals and work together to advance one agenda. Sal used the jurisdictional dispute as a launching pad to argue that this is about bottom up vs. top down. However, he was on the executive committee who was in charge of this “undemocratic” jurisdictional process all seiu locals have undergone. even though long term care workers voted democratically to decide whether they wanted to merge into one long term care local. Sal however, urged them to boycott the election because he knew that if he democratically allowed all long term care workers in ca to vote they would vote to belong to one long term care union and they did. If Sal had put as much energy in ensuring the long term seiu local was doing right for members as a strong ally supporter as the president of the seiu hospital union sharing staff and recourses, off the record advice in order to ensure hospital wages with long term care workers, one member one vote, one industry one standard etc. instead of fighting a internal jurisdictional question, workers would have contracts right now and higher and better standards now during the bad economy. Now all the NUHW supporters and workers are being led like lambs to the slaughter to wait years before they can win a contract. And believe you me the NUHW will be tested by employers and workers will have to fight to win like never before with NUHW. Instead of fighting now with SEIU like never before.

    2. Sal purposefully did not launch contract campaigns all last year in nursing homes and elsewhere so that workers wouldn’t have an incentive to stay in seiu. in other words if workers had fought all last year and won good wage increases and benefits etc, they would think twice about joining his NUHW because they would be in essence legally required to bargain all over again and give up anything guaranteed for it to be only negotiable such as increases and possibly set workers up for less if impasse is imposed. They are few exceptions to Sal not taking on fights last year but those decisions were strategically made in order to advance the jurisdictional agenda. For example, Kindred both the La long term care local and Sal were bargaining together because Kindred wouldn’t meet unless both locals sat down. So of course because of competition Sal did a contract campaign, but with others like Sunbridge only had two sessions all year. Of course Sal lied to workers and said that its because these employers were waiting for the International to come and sign sell out sweet heart contracts. Good excuse, the only problem is we all know you can file unfair labor practices and do job actions to get the employer back to the table and willing to move just like Kindred. Plus what ever happened to june 15 ,2008 common expiration date the date the whole industry was supposed to shut down for industry standards and a massive fight? This new union was planned out at the top level for years as the last step in the two year fight for power and not doing contract campaigns all last year was the plan, did members vote on that?:
    3. Workers were misled and still being lied too, all last year they were under the impression that there union was trying to win a contract with them. Instead they spent millions of dollars on fighting jurisdictional hearings. And now are expected to wait more time while this seiu ulp blocking charge is being investigated and another year if nuhw prevails and begins to bargain maybe sometime next year. I don’t know about you but workers care about now. Of course if they have been spoon fed that the international will sell you out for two years there will be obvious confusion and or cult like support for this so called movement.
    4 In the Past in private uhw staff meetings Sal repeatedly said that Kaiser is already subsidizing for the nursing home division and cant offer more staff or add more resources. But then the jurisdictional issue arose and every gung ho college kid was spoon fed the same rap about the big bad international and hired on over night.
    5. NUHW is currently telling members who they sold out all last year by not doing contract campaigns that they should not participate in bargaining with seiu even though they can have an election for nuhw uhw or no union if they win a contract with seiu. Because what happens if workers win a contract they may think twice about joining nuhw. A guaranteed increase is what Sal doesn’t want for workers during the worst economic crisis since the great depression.
    6. Bosses win when workers are not united behind who ever can get them to the table now. Nuhw is with the bosses even though the members think its the other way around. Bosses have signs up already vote no union and some workers are just thinking why is this happening ? Both of you leave me alone.

    I’m an ex staffer of uhw and I resigned because I saw this coming. I hope you can all see think and learn for yourself and ask for the facts not the rhetoric. I can offer 100 examples of Sal’s team doing and making undemocratic decisions and in some cases selling out members in order to advance the jurisdictional fight and the political power trip of Sal Rosseli. And even when it seems democratic its not they just organize the workers to give speeches and vote in whatever way advances jurisdiction over long term care workers…..its easy we identify leaders get them to fulfill whatever actions were assigned to do by Sal and the leaders who are workers move there co-workers were organizers that’s our job unfortunately many gung ho college kids recently hired these last two years into uhw are blind to the real truth and some just love to kiss John Vellarditas ( ex uhw nursing home director) ass up the Sal Rosselli “Jim Jones” corporate ladder. Be careful not to drink the lemonade at your next NUHW meeting it just might be your last.

  6. It’s very interesting that no one is reporting on the CNA president putting a knife in Sal’s back yet again. As usual Sal trusted Roseanne even changing their union colors to match CNA. Stupid!!! Why are NUHW staffers calling UHW members crying about no longer having medical insurance funded by CNA?? Join the real world!! Maybe you can still qualify for Cobra under the evil UHW. It is disgusting that no one is reporting the truth on this fight. FYI: Sal is not Jesus

  7. Dear “Exuhw staffer,” – If you were really *ever* a UHW staffer, you would have known what John Vellarditas’s position / title actually was. I am surprised you didn’t do your homework better.

    If you really were *ever* a UHW staff person, you would know that we did NOT vote to be separated from the union that respected us. The more than 8,000 members who showed up in San Jose, the thousands of our members who traveled hundreds of miles to the two Manhattan Beach hearings, the 9,000+ who came to the San Mateo fairgrounds to protest being driven out of our union far outnumber the fewer than 4,000 TOTAL votes that were submitted from a total of 3 locals. There were more than a quarter of a million people eligible to vote in that election and fewer than 4,000 even bothered because it was so crooked.
    “Democratic” indeed! .

    MY NAME IS CAROL TAYLOR and I am an IHSS homecare provider. WHAT’S YOURS, “Exuhw staffer”?

  8. It seems like business is still getting hit hard. Is anybody seeing an upswing in their respective niches? Health reform seems like a mess. I generate long term care insurance leads and annuity leads for the insurance industry, but volume has been terrible in the last two months. I am afraid the worst is yet to come, but maybe it is just my attitude.

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