Who Will Be The Next NUHW 16?

by Steve Early

Steve Early

Steve Early

The price of campaigning for union reform can be high. Dissidents in the U.S. labor movement have been fired, blacklisted, and beaten up. In 1969, one was even murdered along with his wife and daughter. (See Yablonski, Joseph A.) In some unions, critics of the leadership face internal discipline, which can lead to fines, suspension, or expulsion.When rebellious rank-and-filers get dragged into court, it’s usually because officials sued them for libel or “copyright infringement” (involving the union logo) to inhibit free speech or shut down opposition websites and Facebook pages.

But that was before the “NUHW 16.” Their four-year legal persecution has become a case study in how a big labor organization, with deep pockets, can make an object lesson of former loyalists who became dissidents, sided with the members, and dared to disobey the dictates of higher union authority.

Oakland lawyer Dan Siegel, who represents these defendants, has been handling cases arising under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) since the 1970s. Yet he has “never seen a situation where an international union was using the federal law designed to protect union democracy to sue union dissidents”—until now.

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The Fall of the House of Labor

by David Duhalde

David Duhalde

At a recent fundraising event for a city councilor in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was drawn toward two UNITE-HERE staffers by their easily identifiable red and black shirts. I broke the ice by asking if they knew a friend of mine whom worked at UNITE-HERE, my former supervisor at 1199 Service Employees International Union (SEIU). This sparked a discussion about National Union of Healthcare Workers (formerly SEIU United Healthcare Workers West), SEIU, and UNITE-HERE, all of which have been involved in major internal struggles among major labor unions. One of the trade unionists gave an optimistic spin on the situation: UNITE-HERE came out stronger because of their battle with the purple giant, SEIU.

I pointed to Steve Early’s new book The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor, to provide a counter-point. While his book focuses mainly on SEIU, Early also writes about Elvis Mendez, a fellow Massachusetts resident inspired to join the labor movement. At first attracted toward UNITE-HERE because it was more worker-led, Mr. Mendez found himself leafleting a workplace where SEIU was on the ballot, instead of mobilizing the unorganized. His union had no intention of running an election there, but merely wanted to punish SEIU for its transgressions against UNITE-HERE. Mendez said “I was essentially union-busting in a place where workers needed a union.” I brought this story to them and said “was all this union in-fighting really worth it?”

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