A house divided - Page 3

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

Get out the vote efforts such as phone banks and door-knocking are often performed by union workers on behalf of Democratic candidates — and they can be decisive in a close election.

"Of course this [the trusteeship hearing] is unfortunate timing," Ringuette said. "But ... we don't believe this is going to affect out advocacy for Barack Obama. That is our top national priority."

But a third employee of the international we spoke with rejected Ringuette's description of a division of labor within the union's organizers. The longtime employee, who also asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, told the Guardian that a small number of international staffers may specialize exclusively in political activism, but virtually all organizers would be working on the fall campaign in a normal election year.

"If they're sending organizers to California [to deal with UHW], they're definitely moving them away from battleground states. California is not considered a battleground state."

Our other two sources at the international echoed the third source's characterizations.

In a strongly worded letter to Stern dated Sept. 9, UHW's secretary treasurer Joan Emslie stated that the trusteeship hearings "can only distract" SEIU from political activism and "hinder our ability to put the greatest possible efforts into this critical national election." The letter ended by requesting that the trusteeship hearings be postponed until "a date no earlier than Nov. 10," one week after the presidential election. As of press time, the international has not rescheduled the hearings.

Obama campaign officials we contacted declined to comment on what one called "an internal union matter." But some labor observers were willing to voice their displeasure with the timing of the dispute. Professor Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at UC Santa Barbara called the trusteeship hearings "a huge mistake." With the upcoming election, Lichtenstein went on, "the consequences could be enormous. What's the rush?"

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