Some of SEIU’s ‘Fight for $15’ workers aren’t unionized — and don’t make $15 an hour

by Arun Gupta

fight for 15

 On Friday evening, just before 7 p.m., in a darkened hall in the Richmond Convention Center packed with more than 1,000 low-wage workers and union organizers, Olimpia Barajas-Ames gave the signal.

A mother of one and an organizer with the Child Care Fight for $15 campaign in Las Vegas, Barajas-Ames stood up, holding a sign that read, “$15 minimum wage and union rights for all means organizers too.” That was the tip-off for other union organizers to slap on stickers and don tee shirts indicating they want a union for employees who work on labor organizing projects spearheaded by the 1.9 million-member Service Employees International Union.

To outsiders, it may seem strange that union organizers are demanding a union of their own. But to Barajas-Ames and others who joined in the protest against SEIU, they are as much part of the precarious, low-wage workforce as workers at McDonald’s and Walmart are.

Jodi Lynn Fennell, also an organizer with the Child Care Fight for $15 campaign in Las Vegas, says, “Many SEIU organizers come from low-wage backgrounds. Childcare organizers come from childcare backgrounds. Fast-food organizers come from the fast-food industry. Many home healthcare organizers were once home healthcare aides themselves.”

For months, organizers in SEIU’s Fight for $15 campaign have been working with the Union of Union Representatives to demand representation. Currently, nearly 100 staff at SEIU are unionized under a contract with UUR that began 30 years ago. UUR launched an investigation of SEIU in 2015 and found it was outsourcing the work of its field organizers in violation of the contract. Earlier this year, many of SEIU’s field organizers formed an organizing committee to gain union representation and in April, 15 organizers submitted UUR membership cards.

The action by the Fight for $15 Staff Union Organizing Committee at the convention in Richmond, Virginia, is the latest tactic to pressure SEIU to recognize the union rights of all its organizers. After Barajas-Ames held up the sign for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and a union for organizers, she started walking toward the stage where SEIU president Mary Kay Henry was speaking.

Fennell, who joined, says, “Nearly 100 organizers and supporters gathered, moving up toward the stage peacefully. Our plan was simply to deliver a letter to Mary Kay Henry because she doesn’t make herself available to speak with us.”

Fennell wrote the letter that was to be presented to Henry. Fennell says last February, during a luncheon with Henry, the SEIU president said that “every worker deserves a union.” The letter called on SEIU to “lead by example” and “embody the movement’s basic principles of $15 and a union.” Fennell pointedly wrote, “If you say all workers must have a union, why is SEIU International denying my union rights and those of the entire Fight For $15 field staff?”

Fennell added that the UUR organizing campaign “is not about negativity. We want to enrich this movement with integrity so that we can strengthen the national Fight for $15.”

But they never got to hand the letter to Henry. Inside sources at SEIU say the union was prepared for such an incident, and sprang into action. Fennell says, “Security prevented us from getting to the stage.” Meanwhile, on the speakers’ platform, Henry stepped back and a group of African-Americans and Latino/as who sit on the national organizing committee for Fight for $15 stepped up.

One woman on stage with Henry grabbed the mic. She berated the staff organizers and their supporters below as cameras broadcast the convention. “Are you serious? Are you going to do this right now? Do you know what it is like to get paid $500 every two weeks? … You guys get paid enough. You have a chance to get a union. I don’t.”

As Henry stood smiling faintly behind the human wall, the speaker continued, “Do you know what it is like to have your kids homeless, sleeping in the back of a van? You will never know what that is like. They will never walk a day in our shoes.”

Fennell said of the accusatory remarks, “Everyone has different struggles, but this is not fighting over scraps. This is a movement about being in solidarity. We are not competing on who has it worse. We are not trying to pull each other down like crabs in a bucket.” She said her struggles include carrying $35,000 in student loan debt and nearly as much in medical debt.

Barajas-Ames says the UUR organizers stood before Henry for 15 minutes. As the speakers on stage led the crowd in chants of “$15 and a union,” Barajas-Ames says, “The security guards became hostile and aggressive, physically pushing us back. We stepped back and stood peacefully. Our signs were grabbed and torn up.”

Two child care workers at the convention who supported the action by the UUR organizing committee felt many in the audience were hostile: “They were all up in our face, chanting, ‘This is what democracy looks like.’ We had to jump over a table to get out.”

But that was just the beginning of the troubles for the members of the UUR organizing committee. Shortly afterward, Barajas-Ames and Fennell were personally called by the national director of the Child Care Fight for $15. The two organizers were told they would not be attending the events and protests on Saturday they had been organizing toward for months. Instead, they were to pack their bags as they were being flown out at 6 a.m. back to Las Vegas. Fennell claims the national director also told them, “We will be expecting you to pay for the cost of the hotel.”

Barajas-Ames and Fennell refuse to pay for the two nights they stayed at the Hilton Richmond Downtown, which would set each back more than $300. Barajas-Ames said that amount of money represented a car payment for her, while Fennell said it would be nearly 40 hours of work, as she often makes only $9 an hour given 60-hour workweeks and after out-of-pocket gas expenses. A total of five Fight for $15 organizers who support UUR were shipped home for trying to bring attention to their cause.

Fennell says, “This represents the exact same type of retaliation that corporations do to low-wage workers.”

A UUR representative claims this is part of a broader pattern. “SEIU has been fostering anti-union sentiment for months among the national organizing committee. We think they are creating divisions between the workers and the staff organizers’ campaign.”

UUR estimates more than 100 SEIU organizers who have been outsourced should be covered by its contract, although it has only identified 40 to 50 of them. Of this group, UUR says about 10 have left in the last six months because of the difficult working conditions or retaliatory actions by SEIU. UUR has already filed one “unfair labor practice” charge with the federal government and plans to file a second on August 14.

The outsourcing is blatant, the staff organizers claim. Fennell says her job is determined solely by SEIU. “I was hired by a regional director for SEIU. All my communication is with SEIU. I work in an SEIU office.” But her paycheck, like Barajas-Ames’s, comes from the “Ardleigh Group.” One former employee calls it a “faceless, shadowy” corporation that acts as a pass-through to hide employer responsibility. SEIU documents appear to show it using paper outfits to funnel money to the Ardleigh Group, which then pays workers on SEIU projects who say they are being denied their legal union rights.

UUR president Conor Hanlon told the Raw Story, “The treatment of the Fight for $15 Organizers fits the same pattern that we see from private-sector employers across the country which turn to franchises, temp agencies, and so-called independent contractors rather than hire employees directly. We believe that rather than participate in the disastrous race to the bottom SEIU should commit to its organizers who, like all workers, deserve a career path, fair treatment, and good pay and benefits.”

In addition to accusing SEIU of “evading responsibility of its employment practices,” UUR alleges that SEIU engages in discriminatory employment practices. These include “women are paid less than men, Black staff are paid less than non-black staff, and Latina/Latino staff are more likely to be hired as temporary employees rather than full-time employees.”

Fennell says SEIU’s habit of overworking and underpaying organizers leads to “extraordinarily high” turnover, which harms labor organizing and the goal of improved social services. “We feel passionate about creating affordable child care for all. We can serve our community better when we have the same worker rights as the child care workers who we are fighting for.”

Arun Gupta contributes to The Washington Post, YES! Magazine, In These Times, The Progressive, Telesur, and The Nation. He is author of the forthcoming Bacon as a Weapon of Mass Destruction: A Junk-Food Loving Chef’s Inquiry into Taste from The New Press.

This article is reposted from Raw Story [http://www.rawstory.com/2016/08/exclusive-some-of-seius-fight-for-15-workers-arent-unionized-and-dont-make-15-an-hour/] with permission of the author.

Organizing for a Sanders endorsement from an SEIU Local

by Russ Weiss-Irwin

seiu for bernie

I just wanted to share a hopeful little story from my hopeful little SEIU local, tucked away in Central NJ. I’m a food service worker at Princeton University, and together with 425 or so other blue collar Princeton workers, I’m part of SEIU Local 175. I’m pretty new on the job; just moved to the area from NYC in August, only started working in my current position in November, while many of my coworkers have been here for years or even decades. However, I’m a socialist, a big-time fan of Bernie, and I’ve never been one to be shy about my politics, so a lot of people on the job have heard me talk about him. Nevertheless, I’ve been a little nervous to try to push my local to endorse him, because I’m so new and don’t know how everything works yet.

Last weekend, however, I went to the Labor Notes conference in Chicago and attended the Labor for Bernie session and heard a report from an IBEW member, Carl Shaffer, who talked about how one of the most politically important endorsements Bernie has gotten from a union so far was from the IBEW local in Kansas City, MO, because it was decisive in helping prevent a national IBEW endorsement of Clinton, which in turn helped block a national AFL-CIO endorsement. And apparently the push for the KC endorsement was led, improbably, by a 27-year-old woman apprentice. The message that even a very junior person in the union can make a difference hit home. So I thought to myself, “If she can do it, I should at least try!”

Then, just a couple days after I got back to work, I was taking my break with some coworkers and we were talking about various things, and the topic turned to retirement. One of my coworkers, who grew up in Haiti, was asking how the Social Security system works. We began to explain it, and I started to say how unfair it is that millionaires are all taxed as if they make only $118,000 for the purposes of SS, while everyone else is taxed for every dollar we earn. Before I even finished, another coworker, a middle-aged white woman, said “That’s Bernie’s whole thing, right? Get rid of the SS tax cap?” And she started to talk about how much she supports Bernie. The Haitian coworker who started the conversation concurred, and then we went around the table, as each of my coworkers in turn– white and Black, immigrant and US born, Millennial and middle-aged, woman and man– expressed why we are supporting Bernie (and how much we don’t like Trump). It was like one of Bernie’s ads. I thought, “Here’s my chance!” I said, “Well, since we all feel this way, do you think we should try to get our union to endorse him?” People all agreed it was a good idea, and several said it hadn’t occurred to them before that our union was a space in which we could push for a politician who we support.

Only half an hour later, our local union president came into our cafeteria to get his own lunch (he works upstairs in the same building where we do), and my coworker urged me to talk to him about the endorsement idea. He told me that, with the NJ primary coming up in June, he was actually just getting ready to start the endorsement process– he had to discuss things with the International, then with the state leadership, and then poll the local membership to make a decision. Well, I know what that means: we need to get all the Bernie supporters in our local organized so that the results of that poll are overwhelmingly pro-Bernie and then convince the local leadership that the membership’s opinion should count more than the International’s. This will be hard, but not impossible! I know that SEIU members at Dartmouth and Columbia Universities have already bucked the International and endorsed Bernie, and the giant public workers local in New Hampshire as well.

So, SEIU sisters and brothers, here in Local 175, we’ve got our work cut out for us, but there’s a glimmer of hope. I wanted to share that story with all of you, hoping that inspires you the way the IBEW sister’s story inspired me, and also to ask for your advice and support. And can anyone put us in contact with the leaders of the locals in New Hampshire and New York that have already endorsed Bernie? Thank you in advance!

Solidarity from the heart of New Jersey,
Russell Weiss-Irwin
Local 175, Princeton University

Jobs, Justice and Climate Rally and March to Defend New England’s Future

by Paul Garver

jobsjusticeclimate

By 12th December the Paris climate talks will have ended.  Political leaders will have made promises to voluntarily reduce carbon emissions. Whether these promises are kept or not kept over the coming decades depends upon us.

We know what we need: real climate solutions that create secure union jobs and strengthen community power and resiliency.

To get there, we must build an unstoppable grassroots movement that unites workers and  labor unions with immigrant rights. racial justice and climate justice movements.

Representatives of these movements are calling for a rally and march in Boston on 12th December to Defend New England’s Future. Organizers include 350 Mass for a Better Future and Jobs with Justice.  Endorsers include labor unions [Vermont State AFL-CIO, SEIU Locals 1199 and 509, Mass. Nurses Association/National Nurses United, Boston Musicians, Local 3844 American Postal Workers Union], worker centers from Vermont, Southern Maine and New Bedford, and numerous community and social rights groups like City Life/Vida Urbana, the Migrant Center and Interfaith Workers Justice.

They will join with a broad network of climate justice and environmental groups including numerous 350 MA nodes, campus divestment groups, Mass Peace Action and the Sierra Club in rallying in Boston Common and in front of the Mass. State House.   The march will also take support for organizing low wage workers at McDonald’s and Primark.  Flyers are being prepared in Spanish and Portuguese as well as English to help reach out to immigrant communities.

Although social movements have been gathering momentum and winning specific legislative victories in Massachusetts and other New England states in the years since the Occupy movement, they have been somewhat isolated into separate “silos.”  Organizers of the 12th December Rally and March hope to help spark a more inclusive and unified grassroots’ movement that reaches broader mass constituencies beyond their organizational leaders.

For some background on how the 12th December actions being organized throughout the world relate to the Paris talks, see http://www.religioussocialism.org/global_climate_justice_a_new_great_awakening.

SEIU Mourns Members Killed in San Bernardino

by Paul Garver

Ten of the fourteen killed and many of those wounded in the shootings in San Bernardino were County environmental health specialists who were members of SEIU Local 721, which represents public-sector workers in southern California.

The local’s president, Bob Schoonover, noted that its members regularly worked at the Inland Regional Center, the health care facility where the massacre took place. The state facility serves people with developmental disabilities, offering work programs and social services. Employees of the county environmental health department were gathered there for a semi-annual meeting when Farook and Malik opened fire.

The union hosted a candlelight vigil with other labor groups on Monday to mourn the victims.

Mary Kay Henry, the international president of SEIU, said that she’d spoken with union leaders from around the country on Friday and heard “expressions of grief and outpourings of support.”

“The SEIU family suffered a profound and terrible loss Wednesday in San Bernardino,” Henry said. “Our hearts are broken from this tragedy. The victims taken from us too soon leave behind a legacy of lives dedicated to service and a deep commitment to upholding public health.”

Henry added, “We will unite to demand that our nation does everything possible to ensure that no more families have to feel this pain, sadness and loss ever again.”

Refusing to join in anti-Muslim hysteria, SEIU encouraged its members instead to sign a petition organized by health care professionals to demand that Congress allow the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate gun violence. To sign the petition go to http://act.drsforamerica.org/sign/end-cdc-ban/#.VjpXSrerQdV.

Labor for Bernie: Respect Our Dissent

by Labor for Bernie 2016

After SEIU’s endorsement of Clinton…
Sanders’ supporters call on leaders to recognize and respect differences of opinion within the union

A significant number of SEIU local union leaders, stewards and activists waged a valiant campaign to stop an early endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president by the union’s International Executive Board (IEB).

Members created a Facebook page, initiated a petition campaign, spoke out at union meetings and with the press, wrote letters and made calls to top union officers.

SEIU Local 560 in New Hampshire endorsed Bernie Sanders, while SEIU’s largest affiliate, 1199 (United Health Care East), Local 503 (Oregon public employees) and Local 509 (Massachusetts social service workers) all passed resolutions calling for no endorsement.

However, despite our best efforts, SEIU endorsed Clinton on Nov. 17, 2015.  The IEB undoubtedly believed it was in the best interests of the membership.  Days later, in a major repudiation of the IEB’s Clinton endorsement, SEIU Local 1984 in New Hampshire voted to endorse Sanders after thorough membership engagement, debate and discussion.

SEIU’s decision to endorse Clinton is short-sighted and unprincipled. It is based on a failed strategy of engaging in purely “transactional” politics with corporate liberals.  That’s why members who support Bernie Sanders are so understandably frustrated.  Many feel that SEIU’s endorsement process was insufficiently responsive to rank-and-file sentiment.  Some are threatening to stop their voluntary contributions to SEIU political action funds.

While many of us strongly disagree with the decision, we need to stay united and continue the fight for our shared objectives: the Fight for $15, immigration reform, reinstating Glass–Steagall and winning campaign finance reform. Continue reading

SEIU Endorses Hillary Clinton

SEIU Exec Committee Endorses Hillary Clinton

Français : Logo SEIU

Français : Logo SEIU (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hillary Clinton scored another major union endorsement, this one from SEIU, on Tuesday. The union endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, and is one of the major backers of the Fight for 15. So is it a contradiction to endorse a candidate who doesn’t support a $15 federal minimum wage? The union’s president says no: “We don’t see it as a contradiction,” Ms. Henry said about the union’s support for a candidate who is not supportive of raising the overall wage to $15, adding that Mrs. Clinton had encouraged her to keep up the pressure to push the wage to that level. “She said to me, ‘Listen, S.E.I.U. and Fight for $15 should continue to push the whole nation, we all need to get to $15.’”
You can see the SEIU’s endorsement video at the bottom of this post.

From: Labor at Daily Kos

A few big national unions remain uncommitted to a presidential candidate – the Teamsters, UNITE Here, and UFCW most notably. But the unions that have endorsed Clinton represent about 9.5 million union members, or nearly two-thirds of the U.S.’s 14.6 million union workers. It’s not too early to conclude that Sanders, endorsed only by National Nurses United and the American Postal Workers Union, has lost his institutional base–organized labor–to the Democratic establishment. He’s also lost another institution: All but a handful of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate have endorsed Clinton.

 

First as Tragedy, Then as Farce

by Paul Garver


Dave Regan, current president of the SEIU local United Healthcare Workers’ West (UHW-W), is bitterly complaining about a decision by national SEIU to remove 70,000 home care workers from his 150,000 member local and transfer them to a newly chartered SEIU local in California.

In a missive written sometime after the May 21 decision, as reported in the San Francisco Business Times, Regan charged that SEIU’s decision:

“marks the first time in my 25 years in SEIU the union has knowingly, intentionally, and willfully taken a major action that is contrary to the basic interests of its membership” and called the decision “a massive betrayal of our stated principles and values.”

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry justified the decision to charter the new SEIU Local 2015 that would include 280,000 California home health care workers, including 200,000 transferred from UHW-W and other SEIU locals in California, as uniting all long-term care members in California into one strong union with the clear goal of winning $15 an hour and a union for everyone in the state who provides care and support to seniors and people with disabilities.”

According to Regan, “This decision is malicious and undertaken with the full knowledge that the interests of California healthcare workers are being sacrificed to the political needs of Mary Kay Henry.  We are ashamed and embarrassed for our Union.”

A clear clash of principles?  David vs. Goliath?  Local union democracy vs. bureaucratic centralism?
Continue reading

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