by Ralph Nader
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
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 and, 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.
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