A house divided - Page 2

SEIU's internal battles could divert critical resources from the fall election
|
(0)
UHW members rally outside a
recent leadership conference
Photo by Stefano Paltera

But because of the feud, a good number of those foot soldiers could be spending this autumn in safely blue California instead.

If the hearing officer hired by SEIU allows the union to take over UHW, another labor scholar, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, said, "It's hard to see how [SEIU] would do it without bringing in a significant number of people." He explained that in the event of a trusteeship, some or all of the staff may need to be replaced. The union also might have to contend with a large number of extremely disgruntled people in its 150,000-member affiliate.

Officials at UHW told us that members are planning "massive" demonstrations at the two-day hearings in late September. And the upheaval could easily drag on through the rest of the campaign season if the trusteeship moves forward. Rosselli predicts there will be "major resistance" from his rank and file. He would not elaborate on what that resistance would consist of, but a resolution passed at a recent UHW leadership conference struck a decidedly militant tone: "UHW will fight to keep our members united in one statewide healthcare workers union and will use all available means."

Rosselli told us that resisting SEIU's trusteeship would "dramatically" curtail his local's political activities. During the primary season, he added, UHW dispatched teams of organizers to Iowa, New Hampshire, and other critical states. But for the general election, they will be staying home. "We're in a civil war," Rosselli said. "We need everyone here to defend against Stern's dictatorship."

The Guardian has learned that Obama and other progressive candidates may not just be losing valuable campaigners from UHW. Several UHW sources said they expect SEIU to send large numbers of union organizers to the Bay Area in the wake of the hearings — and two management-level sources from the international's staff confirmed those suspicions to us.

The first source, who asked not to be identified, told the Guardian that numerous colleagues at the organization have been approached by "senior international staff, attempting to recruit them and other organizers to come to California ... to implement the [possible] trusteeship." The source added that people within the organization believe the union is planning to send "hundreds" of people.

A second management-level source at the international, who also requested anonymity, told us that they have personally assigned several organizers to campaign work only to see those staffers reassigned to the UHW matter by international higher-ups. The second source reiterated the first source's contention that the union is looking to send "hundreds" of what the source termed "troops" to Northern California to replace any UHW staff who quit or are expelled, and to quell any uprising by disgruntled UHW members.

"This has been deemed an imperative at the top levels of the union," the second source continued. "People have been told [the] numbers of people they need to assign [to the UHW feud] and been told to look over their staff lists to see who they can assign."

Michelle Ringuette, a spokesperson for the international in Washington DC, told us that "no one is being pulled off of political work" to deal with the UHW situation. While she wouldn't deny that some organizers who might otherwise be involved in lower-level political activities "like get out the vote operations" might be sent to California if needed, she denied that staffers who specialize in politics would be diverted or that hundreds of staffers would be involved.

Also from this author

  • Back to Oakland?

    In what could be his first move toward the mayor's seat, Don Perata's political machine is working overtime to elect one of its own to Oakland's City Council

  • The SEIU strikes back

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

  • A less perfect union

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