Union showdown - Page 2

UHW threatened with takeover by SEIU

In addition, it called for a mediated reconciliation process with SEIU that could culminate in a vote to create a single union representing all health care workers in California.

UHW members are fiercely loyal to that organization. To illustrate UHW's effectiveness, Rosselli noted that SEIU locals representing nursing home workers recently negotiated contracts with wages $4 per hour less than UHW contracts and without UHW's strong patient advocacy provisions. He also said that while UHW represents about 20 percent of statewide SEIU workers, the union filled 55 percent of the volunteer shifts in state and local elections.

"We're a very democratic organization, and that's what we believe is the key to our success," Rosselli said. "Workers want a strong voice in dealing with their employers, not just another boss in Washington, D.C."

All sides of the conflict express a desire to move forward. As Marshall wrote, "The UHW-SEIU conflict is hurting both organizations at a critical time in the development of the labor movement and progressive policies in the country." But it could be that the two sides have staked out intractable positions.

Rosselli was realistic about whether SEIU will accept the UHW counteroffer, telling reporters, "I don't think it's likely, but we hope that they will."

And what if they don't?

Rosselli was careful to avoid threatening to lead an effort to disaffiliate UHW from SEIU if the trusteeship happens, noting that such advocacy is against SEIU rules and refusing to answer questions from reporters pushing the issue. But he made that possibility clear with statements such as "Our members have instructed us to resist this undemocratic transfer."

As to how UHW leaders will respond if and when SEIU takes over UHW and ousts them, Rosselli read from a prepared statement that said, "We would convene a meeting of our currently elected leaders and decide what to do next."

During the Oakland rally, Rosselli went a little further, reminding UHW members that they always retain the right to form a new union. The crowd applauded for 40 seconds and chanted, "Can we? Yes we can! Will we? Yes we will!"

As the conference concluded and attendees trickled away, homecare worker Tena Robinson grabbed a Guardian reporter and said she had a message to convey: "Andy Stern, we will never surrender!"

As she said it, Rosselli came over to hug her, as if embracing a family member. And then she told Rosselli that if he goes, "I'm going with you!"

Joe Sciarrillo contributed to this report.