SEIU’s Hostile Takeover of UHW Begins

What happens when 91 percent of eligible Service Employees International Union members refuse to vote, as the two options given to them exclude the option many of them say they want? Just ask the international executive board of the SEIU. After the embarrassing nine percent vote, the SEIU board voted January 9 to merge three locals and create a single union of long-term home care and nursing home workers statewide.

The locals to be merged into the new union of 240,000 workers are Local 521 in San Jose; Local 6434 in Los Angeles; and United Healthcare Workers-West in Oakland, whose leadership has become the target of SEIU International President Andy Stern by criticizing his corporatist strategy of trading workers’ rights and powers for an easy road to membership growth.

The SEIU claims that the new union of a quarter-million long-term care workers would be better able to build unity and resist spending cuts due to California’s growing budget deficit, a consequence of the collapsing real estate market. Among the services to be cut back by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal is the In-Home Supportive Services program, which serves 400,000 infirm and low-income Californians.

“Under the reorganization, California long term care workers will be among the most powerful political and economic forces in the state — positioned to fight draconian budget and wage cuts and to press for meaningful long term budget solutions in Sacramento,” said Michelle Ringuette of the SEIU in a press statement.

The UHW, with 65,000 members who labor in long-term care, opposes the SEIU’s bid for consolidation. The UHW says that it has a stronger track record than other health care locals and that, if the point were really to improve workers’ conditions, the thing to do is for workers to join the UHW, not for the SEIU to abolish it. On January 9, UHW President Sal Rosselli and 71 of the union’s elected officers sent a letter to Stern, requesting permission for members to vote on disaffiliating from the SEIU.

This UHW letter notes that the SEIU constitution provides a procedure for a disaffiliation vote within 60 days. So why not hold the vote? At the same time, however, the constitution forbids officers from supporting this ballot. According to the UHW, Stern requested the inclusion of this language into the constitution last year: “no officer of a local union … shall support or assist any efforts to dissolve, secede or disaffiliate from the International Union.” Those who violate this language are subject to disciplinary action.

Recent coverage of the SEIU vs. UHW conflict in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times has omitted this free speech issue. That omission influences the view of both unions in the court of public opinion.

Meanwhile, the UHW members’ vote to disaffiliate from the SEIU may become a moot point. Consider this. “National SEIU officials are expected to launch a hostile takeover of UHW” in a matter of days, according to a January 18 press release from Sadie Crabtree of the UHW. It looks like they are already making the first move for that.

If this takeover is allowed to happen, it will be on the watch of President Obama, for whom both the SEIU and the UHW campaigned last fall.

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento, California. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Seth, or visit Seth's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Joe said on January 24th, 2009 at 12:52pm #

    Ironically, the predecessors of UHW, locals 250 and 399 ,voted “for” the consolidation of large locals when it happened to benefit them. Now that the strategy cuts the other way, they want to take back their votes and make the world believe the International is somehow at fault. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could have a “do-over” anytime it suited us? I’m sure we would have dumped Bush and Cheney much earlier if we could. However, the last time I looked, the majority rules. And no matter how much UHW protests, the overwhelming majority of democratically-elected SEIU representatives voted to back the plan to restructure locals. Unfortunately for all of Labor, UHW has decided to make it personal.

  2. Steven McGonigle said on January 24th, 2009 at 6:58pm #

    I have alot of problems with this going on, locals being cut up, which gives Andy Stern more power and the members a lesser voice. I wonder if all of the members of UHW voted on whether to stay as they are or do as the IEB wants, what would the outcome be. The International wants to state that this is the democratic way, it was voted on. Well than why do you want to take away the right of workers to vote on whether or not they want to have a union at the workplace?

    I believe in the EFCA(Employee Free Choice Act) in priciple, but there are some things I think need to be changed with this legislation.

    I lost my job, at Nova Southeastern University, because I was a major supporter of the organizing of of the Janitors and the Landscapers at this campus. I was a Lead Painter, was paid well and had no problems on the job. But, because of my fierce support of my co-workers, I lost my job along with 107 janitors and landscapers. I put myself out there, in the newspaper, press releases for the Union (SEIU) and basically became a leader in this struggle. After I lost my job I went to work for SEIU Local 11 in Miami Florida and was laid off in August of 2008 because SEIU Local 32BJ out of New York took over Local 11. Today, I believe because of my support of the Union, I am jobless, I believe I have been black balled because of my Union activity, I google my name and up pops up all of the newspaper articles and press releases with my name, I was arrested during a protest in support of the workers at Fisher Island. I am forced to file bankruptcy because I have had my vehicle repossed, my investment property foreclosed on, in short I have lost a lot because of this. My life has done a 180, before this I was happy, not making a huge amount of money, but was able to pay bills and go out to eat once in a while. Now, I am broke, have lost my dignity and does the Union care, No. I am beginning to realize that I was just a tool for them. To this day I wonder how the organizers and leaders can live with themselves after they took part in destroying 108 people’s lives. I know I could not. They got paid to do what they did, did not sacrifice anything, we did all of the sacrificing. And where are they now. The Union has basically disassociated themselves with these workers, no communication with then, it is just plain immoral.

    Now back to the EFCA, I believe things need to be changed, we went through much in our attempt to organize, and the current Labor Laws do not support us. In November of last year I went to a hearing at the NLRB (National Labor relations Board) for an incident that happened during our struggle in August of 2006. Why did it take so long? This needs to be changed. We lost our jobs in February of 2007. Employers need to be held to a more strict law, that if the interfere with the workers in attempts to organize, they will have to pay big fines.

    I think removing the election is not a neccessary step if the laws protect the workers more than they do now. Also, the Union wants to allow card check as a way of organizing, why not card check as a way of disaffiliation? That only would be fair. UHW has filed a dissaffiliation request with the International, watch what happens. I only think it holds the Union accountable, and if the workers are not happy with the Union, it gives them a way out, just as they had a way in.

    When I first became aware of this in the beginning, my wishes were that Andy Stern and Sal Rosselli get together and hash things out, but I guess that was not possible. I believe no one is 100% right or wrong in this fight, but if the leadership of this Union cannot resolve their problems without it escalating to what this has, what does it say about the Union.

    I do not believe trusteeship is the way to go, it has back-fired on Andy Stern recently, Tyrone Freeman and others, but I think if two very intelligent men can sit down and debate openly and honestly with each other, this can be resolved. It only takes a willingness to be open minded.

    We will see what happens.

  3. Joe Ruocco said on January 25th, 2009 at 5:38pm #

    I am a UHW member and I must state exactly how the unification of local 399 and local 250 happened.
    We were both asked to vote among our OWN unions and if either union voted no by majority vote, the unification would not have gone though.
    This type of voting yields a democratically reached answer of what the MEMBERS want to do.
    Andy Stern’s method is for the International Executive Board to vote FOR US and then tell us what we have to do. This is not a democratic process and it does not reflect the wants or desires of the 150,000 union members represented by SEIU-UHW.
    We beleive our union should be run by US and not by our leaders. We decide what we want then tell our leaders to go and do it. They listen to us because thats the way UHW works. Thats why our leaders were re-elected again, unopposed by anyone, even during these trying times.
    We believe in Sal Roselli and our other leaders and we waqnt them to stay in office to lead our union and our people toward better lives for workers and patients alike.
    Our contracts negotiated by workers like me are among the best and strongest contracts in America. Anyone want to say something bad about the Kaiser contract? That is the result of many many years of negotiating and building relationships with employers not by making “back door” deals to undermine the workers rights in the workplace.
    Of course the boss will make deals with SEIU to allow a union if the workers are not permitted to have a voice and to make changes for the better.
    We believe our members should run the union and they should be able to say what they feel and not be attacked for their dissent.
    Obviously Andy Stern does not agree. If you have a dissenting voice you get a multi-million dollar smear campaign against you and fliers with lies about people you trust. We know our leaders, do you know your SEIU leaders?
    I beg you to read about the changes made to the SEIU constitution in Puerto Rico last year. See what things Andy Stern has done to give him unyielding power over locals to decide for themselves how to spend their own money on organizing and politics.
    Don’t even get me started on his idea on “call centers”. Why would you replace “volunteers” like me who work at local hospitals with an 800 phone number? My co-workers know me and trust me. They don’t want to call an 800 to get help with day to day problems at work.
    We at UHW are strong in our conviction and our belief that we have what we want and we will fight to keep it as it is, a democratically run union for the people by the people.
    I welcome your comments.
    Joe Ruocco

  4. Kathy said on January 31st, 2009 at 5:14pm #

    I too am a 9-year member of Local 250/United Healthcare Workers and have been following this struggle closely. First, let me say that this plays right into the hands of Kaiser management and other hospital management teams. They don’t have to worry about busting the union; we’re doing it for them! Why can’t we get it right?
    Second, I am disappointed in my union at my Kaiser facility. Not only do we not have regular monthly meetings since I’ve been there, (and when I contacted our field rep I was told it was hard to book rooms. I booked one for her and all that was held was a “question and answer” session), our stewards have not shared one bit of information with us about this. I know they have a lot on their plates, I am a former steward and know how it goes. But I do know that one thing they are sworn to do is communicate with us.
    In reading about the issues here, which involve a stolen convention database and alledged financial mismanagement by UHW, all I can say is, I don’t know who is telling the truth here.
    But one thing I do know is that the union movement starts at the local worksite and many UHW members at my worksite are not feeling like their voices are being heard; managers are ignoring the contract, and the union isn’t doing anything about it–because of the mess with the International. Again, management doesn’t have to worry about union bashing, as we are doing it for them!