A less perfect union - Page 4

At a time when organized labor is slipping, SEIU's national leaders are wasting their resources trying to discredit Sal Rosselli
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Sal Rosselli
Photo by Charles Russo

And that way, if the International co-opted Rosselli's ideas, then [the internal conflict] really would be about this clash of personalities, Rosselli versus Stern, instead of ideas." According to Dewar, Mosher and Whitehurst were receptive to the proposal to co-opt Rosselli's initiatives, but that "Josie nixed it."

When we asked Mosher if he remembered this exchange from the meeting, he said his memory was "hazy" and that "a lot was being discussed that night."

Although Dewar was, by his own account, an active participant in the skunk team, he says he started to have second thoughts. The dinner at Oliveto, Dewar said, and the discussion of Sutter's file on Rosselli, "made me want to take a shower ... the cynicism I was exposed to was toxic."

One week later, he sent Mooney an e-mail informing her that, "Today's my last day at SEIU ... the circular firing squads that are now forming in the local and in SEIU nationally have left me jaded, stressed out, and depressed."

SEIU's McDonald denied that the skunk team exists, or ever existed. He added that "the meeting [at Oliveto] was about talking about how [Mosher] could help SEIU communicate our message ... within the context of the misinformation campaign being spread by Sal Rosselli and UHW's leaders."

OUTSIDE INFLUENCE

The rancor between Rosselli and Stern has reached a boiling point in recent weeks. In compiling this story, we had to wade through reams of documents and endure long expatiations from officials and press flaks about the sins of the other side. Both factions have constructed slick, professional-looking Web sites to question the probity of their rivals, and both have coined kitschy names for their respective policy initiatives. The SEIU has countered Rosselli's "Platform for Change" with what union leaders call a "Justice for All" platform.

But the internecine struggle may have driven Josie Mooney and other high-level SEIU staffers to do much more than vent about Rosselli or seek dirt on him from political consultants. E-mails obtained by the Guardian suggest that she and other SEIU officials worked to influence an important local delegate election last month — possibly in violation of union rules — and, some union members now allege, in violation of federal law.

Delegates selected in the election will attend the union's international convention in June and will decide between the Rosselli's "Change" and Stern's "Justice" platforms. The outcome of that vote, and others like it, will shape the mammoth labor organization's future for years to come. And the e-mails appear to show a concerted effort by Mooney and Stern loyalists to ensure that Rosselli's dissidents don't stack the convention and push through their set of reforms.

Referring to themselves in the e-mails as the "Salsa Team," SEIU staffers discussed strategy and coordinated campaign activity for the delegate election with high-ranking union officials like Mooney and Damita Davis-Howard, the president of Local 1021, the e-mails show. In a formal complaint, some members charge that these activities violated Local 1021's Election Rules and Procedures — specifically Rule 18, which states that "while in the performance of their duties, union staff shall remain uninvolved and neutral in relation to candidate endorsements and all election activities."

While Rule 18 does not specifically spell out when union staff can advocate for candidates, other than proscribing such activities "while in performance of their duties," the e-mails in our possession are date- and time-stamped, and at least one was sent during normal business hours.

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