The SEIU strikes back - Page 2

A conflicted committee nixes an election complaint as tensions grow at SF's big union local

A number of 1021 staffers who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal called the memo "bullshit" when asked to comment.

Union member Maria Guillen, one of the members who signed the complaint, told us that the salsa team's actions and their exoneration by the election committee "go against the spirit of union democracy." Guillen went on to challenge the assertion that union staff, especially top management like Mooney and Davis-Howard, have the same rights as rank and file members when it comes to campaigning in union elections.

"None of the executive board members I've spoken to can recall voting on that. Who had the authority to permit that? ... To think that folks with all the resources and all the connections are working against us, it breaks my heart."

The makeup of the committee also raises conflict of interest issues.

According to the provisional bylaws for Local 1021, which were enacted after it was formed in early 2007 by merging 10 separate Northern California locals, 1021's appointed president Damita Davis-Howard has control "in creating committees and naming members to such committees." Several sources inside the union told us she used this power to select the members of the election committee that apparently ruled on whether she herself broke union rules.

Davis-Howard did not return calls for comment and our attempts to reach committee chair Cassandra Burdick through staff at Local 1021 were unsuccessful.

SEIU international spokesperson Andy McDonald could not confirm whether Davis-Howard had in fact named the election committee members to their positions


In another indication of just how radioactive SEIU's internal dissension has become, numerous Democratic politicians and party officials in California recently received a letter signed by five presidents of SEIU locals around the state, including Davis-Howard. The letter, obtained by the Guardian and dated April 2 — the day after we broke the salsa team story — seeks to reassure party members that the union will clean its own house. It also appears to warn the state's political leaders not to choose sides between Rosselli and Stern.

With millions of dollars in its coffers, SEIU is a prime source of campaign cash for politicians.

"We have a democratic process for resolving our internal differences," the letter reads. "In fact, our members will debate and set the course of our union at our convention in June. We hope that you will respect the right of our members to decide for themselves the direction of their union and avoid involvement in our internal affairs."

SEIU's alleged hardball tactics have extended beyond its internal conflict in recent weeks. The union has been feuding with the California Nurses Association over allegations that the nurses' union has been attempting to woo SEIU members into switching to the competing union.

Last week, several CNA board members in Southern California claimed that SEIU staffers showed up at their doors and confronted them. SEIU confirmed that it's sending people to CNA members' houses, but said there was no intimidation. And last weekend, a large crowd of SEIU members allegedly stormed a convention in Michigan put on by the magazine Labor Notes. A press release from CNA claimed several people were injured and that numerous CNA officials had to flee "out the back of the hall for their safety."

SEIU's Lynda Tran confirmed that "things got a little rough" when a group of SEIU members and staff attempted to confront a CNA official. "Folks from both sides got injured," she added.

Labor activist and author Herman Benson, of the Association for Union Democracy in New York, told the Guardian that the divisions within SEIU, and its conflicts with other unions, are nothing new in the labor movement.

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