SEIU Massachusetts Hospital Organizing Campaign Director Resigns

The organizing director of SEIU’s successful hospital organizing campaign in Massachusetts has resigned to protest SEIU’s actions in California. Writing to his colleagues on May 11, Dana Simon submitted his letter of resignation, saying:

“I am beyond sadness in saying that I cannot in clear conscience continue working for SEIU, the union that I have fought for and helped to build since 1996.”

Dana Simon is now volunteering his support to the NUHW’s organizing campaign for homecare workers in Fresno, where he co-directed the original organizing campaign and led the negotiations for a first contract for the UHW in 2002-2003.

The full text of his moving letter follows.

From: Dana Simon
Sent: Monday, May 11, 2009 11:38 AM
To: Amy Gladstein; Scott.Courtney@seiu.org; George Gresham; Maria Castaneda; Mike Fadel; HENRYM@seiu.org
Subject: Letter of Resignation
It is with sadness that I submit my two weeks notice of resignation.

The reason for my decision is irreconcilable differences with the direction of the broader Union, which I have tried to summarize from a personal perspective in the attached letter of May 5.
Words fail in describing my feelings when I think of the workers’ recent victories here in Boston. I have been several times in the past few weeks moved to tears, knowing the punishment many of those workers have endured over the past years, who are now seeing victory.

But I have also found myself moved to tears by the contradiction of our Union’s role, and therefore by extension my role, in damaging the lives of our sister and brother healthcare workers in California. I wake up each morning and go to sleep each night knowing that I can’t help workers here in Boston organize fast enough to make up for the destruction of the organization, the rights, wages and benefits of other workers along side of whom I had struggled for years for better lives. I have the utmost confidence in the abilities of the two of the finest lead organizers anywhere in the Labor Movement, together with the greatest possible admiration for the members of the Massachusetts Hospital Organizing Team, whom I know will help the workers bring the current election campaigns to victory. I cannot state strongly enough my respect for the team and for the commitment of the Massachusetts division’s collective leadership to work with the new members to bring into the world a better future for many of people.

I am beyond sadness in saying that I cannot in clear conscience continue working for SEIU, the union that I have fought for and helped to build since 1996.

Sincerely,

Dana Simon
Massachusetts Hospital Organizing Campaign Director
——–
From: Dana Simon
Sent: Wed 5/6/2009 12:17 PM
To: Maria Castaneda
Cc: Amy Gladstein; Mike Fadel

Dear Sister Castaneda,
Monday we began our campaign inside the Carney Hospital, which has been welcomed with amazement and happiness by workers there. Today we signed the organizing accord with the new non-Caritas hospital and next Monday our organizers begin the campaign inside that hospital. Next week, the St Elizabeth’s newly elected bargaining committee meets for the first time.

Words fail in describing my feelings. I have been several times in the past few weeks moved to tears, knowing the punishment many of those workers have endured over the past years, who are now seeing victory.

But I have also found myself moved to tears by the contradiction of our Union’s role, and therefore by extension my role, in damaging the lives of our sister and brother healthcare workers in California. I wake up each morning and go to sleep each night knowing that I can’t help workers here in Boston organize fast enough to make up for the destruction of the organization, the rights, wages and benefits of other workers along side of whom I had struggle for years for better lives.

3,500 miles away, much of what is being said in California must sound like so much rhetoric. But for me it is deeply personal:

I was the negotiator for UHW’s last two contracts at Alameda Hospital. Years ago the workers struck to win fully employer paid health for workers and their families. We had won it as a pattern that, until just days ago, had very few exceptions in UHW hospitals. In recent weeks, in an apparently politically motivated rush to pre-empt the filing of a petition, SEIU gave that away to win a settlement. They tricked the members into a ratification vote without telling them that many or most now will have to pay $1000 a year for insurance. I have seen the leaflets that dishonestly hide the give back, which have been emailed to me by SEIU. I have seen the internal memo from the hospital’s negotiators to their board, crowing over the concession, which is now on the web. The hospitals have always considered UHW bargaining to be pattern bargaining. The pattern is now set for employers all over the state to demand the same concession in one of the most important contract guarantees that workers have fought and struck for.

Fresno County’s homecare workers:

I was the co-director of Local 250’s and later UHW’s homecare division during the 9,000+ worker campaign in 2002-2003 to win collective bargaining rights, and to win their first election. I was honored to lead the negotiations for a first contract and the countless demonstrations, arrests, etc. that later led to the first contract. Fresno is one of the most rural, lowest income and – within the power structure – most stridently right wing bigoted places in the United States.

But until recently, those workers had won one of the highest homecare wages in the country with one of the best health plans for homecare workers anywhere (Kaiser) – won through the sweat and tears of their years of struggle and the solidarity of their already Union sisters and brothers.

A few months ago, I was asked by SEIU to come to Fresno to be the sole witness in an arbitration over the employer’s plans to reduce all 9,500 workers’ wages mid-contract. It was during that experience that I witnessed the most morally reprehensible conduct that I have ever seen from people who honor themselves with the name “union leader”:

I saw the deputy trustee of UHW for homecare –one of our own from 1199– bar the workers, about 40 of them, from coming into their own arbitration to even silently witness it. I stood in shock as she told the workers, “I have decided it’s not in the interest of the workers for you to be here.” I walked away in disgust when she turned to me and said, “You know these people. You have to tell them to leave.” It was their own arbitration over their wage.

I did know many of those people. They were my friends and comrades. Several were members of the bargaining committee – the people who should have been called by SEIU as witnesses, who would have helped us win. I felt sick.

At every turn, the trustees placed political considerations above principle and above the tactical decisions that would have helped the workers stave off the pay cut. They excluded the workers from every step in their own arbitration. They made public settlement proposals that accepted the premise of the employer’s incorrect case after the arbitration and before the (negative) judgment. They refused to allow me or, I assume, any of the workers to review the employer’s post arbitration brief or SEIU’s post trial brief. The results could have been predicted.

During the first contract campaign in 2003, the committee went out for lunch after being arrested at the county building. Delores Huerta was with us, and she stood up and said, “I want to ask everybody to answer a question: If this was the first time you got arrested, say how it felt. If it wasn’t, tell the story about your first time.” Homecare worker Flo Furlow (read her op-ed article in the Fresno Bee) stood up and said that her first time was around 1960 at a Woolworths lunch counter in Little Rock Arkansas. Driving home that night, it made me cry, thinking that Flo has let me, of all people, be her leader. Just as it makes me cry right now to think that in March 2009 I was with the people who barred the door when she tried to come to her own arbitration.

There are reports that SEIU has reserved 500 hotel rooms in Fresno for troops to be sent in from all over the country to battle what I believe to be the workers’ choice of a Union.
I hope and I need to know that our local will not be playing a role in this terrible mistake.

In solidarity and respectfully,

Dana Simon

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3 Responses

  1. Former SEIU Organizer Dana Simon sheds crocodile tears for an a group of ex-UHW officers and staff who have recently committed themselves to pulling apart California’s largest healthcare union and the western anchor of America’s largest healthcare union– SEIU Healthcare. No union is without its warts and blemishes, including SEIU 1199—but this union is known for its effective, militant organizing and responsible for improving hundreds of thousands of
    workers’ lives. Yet Simon leaves this organization because of something he doesn’t like in California ? This is like saying that
    since my neighbor’s house is burning, I think I’ll burn my own down.
    When union leaders feel that the perfect is the enemy of the good, it’s just as well they move on. This movement needs the truly committed.

  2. Mark Hanna validly states that the perfect is often the enemy of the good, and that no one could last long in the labor movement if he/she cannot tolerate its warts and blemishes.

    This general rule does not apply in this case. SEIU 1199 is indeed following an exemplary union organizing model in Massachusetts, and while it will miss Dana, there is leadership depth and commitment at all levels of SEIU1199 Massachusetts to following that model. Secondly Dana will surely be pursuing his fierce commitment to the labor movement wherever he is organizing. It may not be easy for those of us who committed many years to building SEIU to admit it, but SEIU is not co-extensive with the labor movement.

  3. Mr Garver, we are in agreement on all parts of your response,
    especially your last statement:
    “It may not be easy for those of us who committed many years to building SEIU to admit it, but SEIU is not co-extensive with the labor movement.”

    SEIU is definitely not coextensive with the rest of the labor move-
    ment. SEIU has organized more healthcare , janitorial and home
    care workers in the last 5 years than practically the sum total of
    all new organizing efforts of all International unions combined.

    If you add to that the money and resources provided for the Obama
    campaign by SEIU and compare those things to the AFL-CIO
    unions—some would say trogledytes—-one would better under-
    stand the anger and jealousy of many other union leaders who
    have not produced, except maybe on the golf course.

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