Andy Stern’s Rackets

Andy Stern, the president of the 1.9 million member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is embroiled in the politics of accepting sweetheart union contract deals that, ironically is being condemned by the Wall Street Journal. What gives here?

It seems that Stern wants to put heat on the private equity funds that have bought hospitals, nursing home chains and other firms whose employees he wants to organize. He lost a clumsy attempt to get a bill through the California legislature to restrict state pension funds from investing in private equity firms. The bill was backed by some foreign countries’ sovereign investment funds.

The state pension funds—CalSTRS and CalPERS—defeated the bill and received the approval of the Wall St. Journal’s right wing editorial writers—a rare plaudit indeed. The Journal even praised the California Nurses Association for obtaining a restraining order from a California court against SEIU harassing, assaulting and stalking members of this union, which is embroiled in disputes with SEIU for what the nurses’ union says are blatant sweetheart contracts that SEIU dangles before large employers.

Are you confused?

The California Nurses Association (CNA) is a fast growing union that fights for patient rights, for adequate nurse-patient ratios and bargains for strong contracts with hospital chains. SEIU, by contrast wants membership growth even if the cost is a weaker contract for the newly organized workers.

In Ohio, the CNA exposed a SEIU deal with nine hospitals owned by Catholic Healthcare Partners. SEIU let the employer pick SEIU as its chosen union without a single signed union card. The company-union collaboration scheduled elections.

CNA sent representatives to Ohio and sounded the alarm about a top-down agreement sealed by a mutually imposed code of silence.

SEIU and the hospital chain owner postponed the election after the employees became aware of this sweetheart deal.

CNA’s actions threw SEIU into a rage. Buses of SEIU people from Ohio were sent by Mr. Stern to break up an annual meeting of 1000 labor activists sponsored by the magazine, Labor Notes, in Dearborn, Michigan. CNA’s Executive Director, RoseAnn DeMoro was scheduled to speak to the assemblage.

Shouting, scuffling, overturned chairs and the arrival of the Dearborn Police to impose order led A.F.L.-C.I.O. president John J. Sweeney, to denounce what he called “a violent attack” orchestrated by SEIU.

SEIU split from the A.F.L.-C.I.O. in 2005. SEIU aggressively raids other unions, such as the Allied International Union (AIU).

AIU fled a RICO law suit in New York against Stern’s alleged racketeering behavior and tactics to replace AIU leadership and take control of its members.

In addition, the Department of Labor is investigating a Las Vegas local of SEIU regarding possible misuse of employer funds to advance certain candidates in a local election.

All these struggles and outside charges against Andy Stern are not keeping him from moving to remove rebellious leaders of locals and consolidate power at the top. The biggest battle is in San Francisco. Dissident, Sal Rosselli, head of SEIU-United Health Care Workers West, will propose democratic changes to the autocratic way Stern runs the union at their national convention in June.

Rosselli is pushing to give local unions of SEIU more authority in contract bargaining and more voice in proposed union mergers.

Some labor observers believe Andy Stern is biting off more than he can chew. His assurance to the Democratic Party of over $50 million for the upcoming election exposes him to critics who believe he should be spending the money on and pay far more attention to getting more for his members from the large corporations he massages.

Ralph Nader is a leading consumer advocate, the author of Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State (2014), among many other books, and a four-time candidate for US President. Read other articles by Ralph, or visit Ralph's website.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. mjosef said on April 27th, 2008 at 4:33am #

    Okay, Ralph, yes I am confused. Without any endorsement of this Stern fellow, does the bill he proposed make a telling point? I am a state worker, in the defunct state of New York, and the pension fund I am associated with is fat and happy because of its investments in the very forces of corrupt corporate control and criminal destruction that I abhor in my private little conscience. Ralph Nader, in turn, has been criticized for having large investments in the very corporations he derides – where do the connections and complicities end? How can we talk about unions when all of us are so caught up in trifles as the supersytem rolls on?

  2. Bebe LaDer said on May 1st, 2008 at 9:49pm #

    Some of your arguments seem simplistic and disingenuous. Yes, Andy Stern has been criticized in some progressive circles for stands that are perceived to be pro-corporate. Let’s not forget that SEIU is the largest labor union in the country and it has a successful record organizing workers from all walks of life not just Registered nurses.
    .
    Rose Ann DeMor0, Director of the California Nurse’s Association has been looked upon as a progressive largely due to her support for single-payer health care. Despite progressive positions in this and other areas, what she is engaging in in Ohio, Nevada and California is union raiding pure and simple. Her raiding and the subsequent trading of insults on the part of C.N.A, SEIU and “dissident” SEIU Local UHW are causing glee in the pages of the right-wing press. I don’t see that any of the three of them has a viable program that would allow for a sense of moral superiority and justification for raiding. Meanwhile, the bickering becomes a tool that is and will be used against all workers and their unions. Just check out the right to work websites.