Kaiser Aftermath: How About Some Competition to Organize Healthcare Workers?

seiu-victory-200x146Little Rock       Probably surprising none of the organizers involved or anyone looking at the campaign, the vote count on the rerun decertification election between the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) produced the same result with a wider margin as Kaiser hospital workers in California overwhelming voted for SEIU by almost a 2 to 1 margin, 58.4% to 40.6%.   In such a landslide both sides had to have known the outcome for many weeks, and the NUHW and its new partner, the powerful California Nurses’ Association (CNA), likely did not pull the petition simply as a talking point for the future as they engage other healthcare workers and try to put a spin on the defeat.  SEIU won this round hands down, but their victory is pyrrhic, if it doesn’t now come with the grace that goes with leadership.

I wouldn’t bet on it, but it would be wonderful, if this closed one chapter for all the unions involved and opened another.   This whole division among unions in California has been a disaster for all involved, undermining the stature and reputation of all of the organizations and their leadership, dividing workers from each other therefore only benefiting employers, costing millions, and reducing the strength of all progressive forces everywhere.  It has to stop now for the sake of the labor movement and workers everywhere, especially in the healthcare industry.

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Labor’s Revival Depends on Workplace Organizing, Not Electoral Politics

by Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw

Organized labor is in crisis. And some, including longtime labor commentator Harold Meyerson and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, believe unions should undertake a strategic shift and prioritize electoral politics over workplace organizing. Meyerson recently wrote in the Washington Postthat weak labor laws have “forced” unions to “go outside the workplace,” and touts SEIU’s plan to canvass door- to- door in 17 cities in order to build a “mass organization for the unemployed and underpaid.” According to SEIU’s Henry, “we realized we could organize one million more people into the union and it wouldn’t in itself really change anything. We needed to do something else — something more.” But after unions invested over $300 million in the 2008 elections and got little in return, prioritizing resources outside the workplace is a doubtful strategy for building worker power. And while SEIU has lost confidence in the power of workplace organizing, UNITE HERE, the National Nurses United, the ILWU, IBEW, NUHW, UFCW, CWA and many other unions have not.

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Meet Eliseo Medina, next SEIU Secretary-Treasurer

by Harold Meyerson

Eliseo Medina

In the wake of the resignation last week of Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger, Mary Kay Henry, the new president of the Service Employees International Union, sent a memo  to members of SEIU’s International Executive Board announcing that she intends to nominate Executive Vice President Eliseo Medina to Burger’s former post, the second highest in the union, at SEIU’s board meeting in Los Angeles next month. It is a certainty that the board will ratify Henry’s choice.

An SEIU executive vice president since 1996, Medina is the labor movement’s foremost champion of immigrant rights. Continue reading

From Civil War to Labor Vision

The announcement of a settlement between two rivaling unions should be an occasion for us to refocus on what the labor movement is really about.

By Amy B. Dean

Amy B. Dean

To the outside world, hearing that unions are fighting amongst themselves does not seem like anything new. Sadly, that’s what a lot of people expect from the labor movement. But the civil war between SEIU and UNITE HERE was a particularly painful internal dispute. It created a rift between two of the most dynamic organizations in organized labor and limited the ability of the entire movement to address critical challenges facing the American economy over the past year and a half.

America is a country of immigrants. The unions at the core of the recent dispute, the former UNITE and HERE, are each deeply rooted in the dreams of immigrant workers to create better lives for themselves, their co-workers, and their families. Organized labor in the United States has always grown with the newest wave of immigrants to our country. Moreover, the labor movement has been the most important institution, bar none, in allowing those who are newly coming to America to enter into the economic mainstream of their communities. It is central to our mission, and the continuing importance of this goal far surpasses any internal disagreements we may have within organized labor. Even while the combination of the two organizations, UNITE and HERE, did not last, the labor movement as a whole should reaffirm the broader principles that inspired the merger.

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SEIU, Workers United, and UNITE HERE Settle Disputes

Rumored by reports in recent days, it is now official.  The SEIU, UNITEHERE, and Workers United announced, late on the evening of July 26, a settlement of their dispute.

First, we present the SEIU press release which is followed by a statement from UniteHere President John Wilhelm.

SEIU Press Release

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Workers United and UNITE HERE today announced a settlement agreement on behalf of the unions’ members and elected leadership that will bring to a close the protracted dispute between the unions.

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With New President Will SEIU Change?

Mary Kay Henry

by Paul Garver

For once, there is agreement between the Andy Stern/Anna Burger leadership team and their harshest critics on the left of the labor movement. In an interview with Washington Post writer Alec MacGillis, Stern referred to both Mary Key Henry and Anna Burger as his “lifelong partners,” either of whom would make a good president for SEIU. Either will “build on what’s happened here, not tear it down and change it.”

Anna Burger agrees. In a gracious letter withdrawing her candidacy, she referred to Mary Key as her ‘union sister,” with whom she will remain a close working colleague for the benefit of SEIU members and all working people. She wrote that “The media is just wrong when they suggest that this contest represents a shift in SEIU’s priorities or a rejection of the Stern/Burger agenda.”

Labor Notes editorialized that the contest was merely about “which successor to Stern’s throne would best carry on its mission to quickly expand the union by offering value to corporations.” Steve Early, in a detailed and informative posting on the Working In these Times blog, outlined Mary Kay Henry’s history as a loyal staff officer with no rank-and-file experience in SEIU who played over the years such a prominent role in the conflicts within SEIU’s healthcare unions in California that would make it especially difficult for her to resolve SEIU’s disastrous civil war with the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

But other commentators find reasons to believe that SEIU might undertake a modest course correction in the near future. I recently outlined a minimal reform program for SEIU on this blog.
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What Future for SEIU After Andy Stern Resigns?


by Paul Garver

Articles and editorial comments in the Left and liberal press display a wide spectrum of reactions to Andy Stern’s divided legacy as SEIU President. I will analyze these reactions, note where they diverge and converge, and propose some modest course adjustments for a union that is too big, and too important to the movement, to be allowed to fail.

The articles and comments cited are:

Beyond Chron: Randy Shaw, “SEIU’s Post-Andy Stern Era”
Counterpunch: Steve Early, “Who’s Going to Pay the Tab Left Behind by Andy Stern?”
In These Times: Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Nelson Lichtenstein, “SEIU’s Civil War”
Labor Notes: Mark Brenner, Mischa Gaus, and Jane Slaughter, Andy Stern’s Legacy: Right Questions, Wrong Answers
Katrina van den Heuvel, “SEIU’s Andy Stern Steps Down”
New Republic:
John Judis, “Andy Stern’s departure is another sign of labor movement’s decline”
New York Times:
Steven Greenhouse, “Andy Stern to Step Down as Chief of Politically Active Union”
Washington Post:
Harold Meyerson, “Andy Stern: A union maverick clocks out”
Washington Post: Alec MacGillis, “At the peak of his influence, SEIU chief set to leave a mixed legacy”

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