SEIU preaches unity while trying to divide and conquer CNA

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By Steven T. Jones

Service Employees International Union is caught in the position of decrying efforts by breakaway leaders of the new National Union of Healthcare Workers to steal away SEIU members during a critical moment for the labor movement, while at the same time SEIU is meddling in the internal affairs of another union, California Nurses Association.

On Thursday, CNA blasted SEIU for “impersonating nurses in a multimillion dollar campaign” to topple current CNA leaders and replace them with candidates closer to SEIU and its incremental approach to health care reform. The charges echoed those by Sal Rosselli and other NUHW leaders, who say SEIU under President Andy Stern has sacrificed member interests and rights in its drive become a national powerhouse that works closely with elected officials and large corporate employers.

SEIU spokesperson Michelle Ringuette responded dismissively: “CNA has made wild and untrue charges against SEIU members before. This release is more of the same…It is true that there are CNA members that are unhappy with the direction their union is taking. We have spoken with a number of them, and we support the CNA nurses who want to hold their union’s leaders accountable.”

But the next day, after the Guardian identified SEIU members from other states who have been contacting CNA members in an aggressive campaign to unseat CNA leadership, Ringuette admitted to the campaign, defiantly saying SEIU would do everything in its power to protect its interests.

CNA’s leaders say SEIU’s campaign is illegal. And it certainly belies claims that SEIU leaders have made about the NUHW situation, in which Ringuette and others have repeatedly said union infighting now is major distraction from efforts to pass the landmark Employee Free Choice Act and stave off deep cuts threatened by the dire budget situation in California and its cities and counties.

Barb Savitz, a CNA member and nurse at California Pacific Medical Center’s California Street campus in San Francisco, yesterday told the Guardian about a call she received last week from Jessica Volmer (who has a Denver phone number), identifying herself only as a nurse with Nurses Alliance. “She said, ‘We’re calling up CNA members to ask how they feel about CNA and its leaders,” Savitz said. She said Volmer went on to accuse CNA of squandering union dues on out-of-state campaigns and urging Savitz to run for a leadership post.

When the Guardian contacted Volmer, her voicemail message identified her as a member of SEIU, and she did not return our call to discuss the situation. Another SEIU campaigner identified by CNA, Stacy Manuel from Washington state, refused to state her affiliation when contacted by the Guardian and hung up when we tried to ask her a few questions.

“These tactics are deplorable and should have no place in something called a labor movement,” CNA spokesperson Chuck Idelson told the Guardian, decrying the “strong arm tactics and unethical behavior of SEIU.”

When confronted with the actions by Volmer, Manuel and other SEIU organizers, Ringuette said, “That totally doesn’t surprise me. SEIU members are really frustrated with CNA,” while denying the campaign was orchestrated by SEIU itself or using SEIU resources. But then should took a defiant tone and said SEIU is within its rights to attack CNA.

“We have absolutely been talking to them about their internal process and urging people to run for the board, which is perfectly legal,” she said, something Idelson disputes, citing federal laws that prohibit unions from using dues money to interfere with other unions.

But Ringuette said they were simply responding to CNA efforts last year to challenge an SEIU election in Ohio, where CNA members distributed fliers criticizing SEIU for cutting a back room deal with the employer who called the election. “Yes, we’ve had organizers in California since they screwed with our election in Ohio,” Ringuette said. “We are unable to ignore things that represent direct threats to our members.”

Idelson defended the Ohio action as informing health care employees of a secret deal that was against their interests and part of SEIU’s larger strategy of expanding its membership by working with employers to diminish patient advocacy protections and other health care standards.

“We’re out there trying to raise standards at the moment that SEIU is trying to lower them,” Idelson said, adding that in Ohio, “We didn’t create a phony front group. We said it was us. We don’t think employers should be calling elections.”

Beyond taking a generally more adversarial approach to large health care employers, CNA is also an advocate of a single-payer health care system and opposed last year’s effort by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to require all Californians to buy health insurance, which SEIU strongly supported.

Ironically, the SEIU head in Ohio during that battle was David Regan, who SEIU has now sent to California to act as trustee of its Oakland-based Union of Healthcare Workers local, from which Rosselli and his leadership team was removed last week after battling with Stern over a plan to divide UHW members.

Rosselli’s new union, NUHW, has been moving rapidly to build a union from disaffected SEIU members. NUHW spokesperson John Borsos told the Guardian on Thursday that, “We have filed petitions for 101 facilities and 25,000 workers in just seven days. It is a social movement!”

Ringuette and Regan have criticized Rosselli for creating divisions at a sensitive time and said SEIU has contacted tens of thousands of UHW members to hear their concerns and urge unity. “They want to know why the union has been focused on this other stuff,” Regan said of the UHW-SEIU battle. “We have to show people that we’re on their side and we care about the work that we have to do together.”

But those loyal to Rosselli say SEIU should respect its members’ right of self-determination and to elect leaders rather than have Stern impose them. Shayne Silba, a psychiatric technician at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, said SEIU should let go of units where a majority of workers have asked to join NUHW: “We hope Andy Stern and SEIU will walk away and leave us alone.”

Comments

Shame on the SEIU. Shame! Unions are supposed to fight *against* fascist regimes and cutthroat, corporate-style takeovers that leave front-line employees hurting and often unemployed. Unions are supposed to bow to the will of the people they serve - their members.

Unions are NOT supposed to act like crime lords, but here I am unable to stop thinking "racketeering" every damned time I read a story about the SEIU.

What the hell, SEIU? What is it going to take to make this stop?

Posted by Llyra D'Owain on Feb. 08, 2009 @ 10:16 am

Thanks so much for your amazing coverage of this stuff Steven. There is a lot of stuff out there, but I keep checking in to the Guardian for your updates on SEIU's latest shenanigans.

Today for the first time I was able to listen to SEIU's trader paid staff in action. Right after getting a signature from a UHW member on a petition to file for an election, to switch to NUHW, the phone ominously rung. The UHW member put the call on speaker phone and Iley Whiting from the now infamous SEIU local 6434 launched into a tirade of lies. Ultimately claiming that the union member could lose their union contract if they sign the petition for an election to decertify SEIU and join NUHW. I listened and waited for a chance to respond after the call was made, and luckily the worker asked some very important questions. Eventually though she was scared by the phone call to the point that she admitted to the little Stern on the phone that she had signed the petition already. He automatically offered an affidavit for her to sign so that she could take her name off of the petition, and then had a supervisor call back to talk to the member a little more. The SEIU supervisor leading these calls had a 510 phone number and may have been calling from the now infamous SEIU international office in Alameda(her name was Erica).

If you are interested in pursuing this lead, please email me and I will get you her phone number.

Its difficult to say much more than that right now. It is still shocking to me to see how bad things have gotten under Andy Stern, and how blindly so many in SEIU follow him. I once had so much respect for certain people in SEIU, especially the former United Farm Worker folks like Eliseo Medina and Bobby de la Cruz. No more. It is clear which side they are on now, and there can be no more riding the fence. The workers united will never be defeated!!!

Bring down Stern and his corrupt allies...Si se puede!!

Posted by irlandeso on Feb. 10, 2009 @ 12:13 am

I was an elected officer of my local until the executive director sent by andy stern, used union staff to taint an election in order to elect members who were friendly to Sterns agenda. After the election I joined a group of members who filed charges with the department of labor and 4 charges were validated by the investigation and a new election was held but I was too disenfranchised with seiu to attempt to regain my office. Seiu is determined to implode upon itself and will take many members down with it. Time and resources are being wasted by seiu in a pointless fight against CNA/NNOC as nurses have made the choice of a professional union to represent them.

Posted by Melanie Sisson on Feb. 08, 2009 @ 8:27 pm

As an SEIU dues paying member but also a member of CNA/NNOC Joint Nursing Practice for my 9th year running, the time, energy and money that SEIU-I under Mr. Stern, is expending to destroy its own local, UHW-W and this latest CNA bashing, is both disgusting and extremely counter-productive to organized labor. At a time when many workers are facing lay-offs, furloughs, and program cuts to public health here in San Francisco( see article about cuts to youth services below), our energy should be directed at real life and death issues to help us organize like we used to do when we were a smaller local. Instead, SEIU-I is wasting precious resources by doing these "shenanigans" as my Irish grandmother would say, to defeat itself and other unions, like CNA who have been more vocal in representing their members and their practices. To coin another Irish phrase, SEIU-I is acting like "hooligans" in their hostile take over last week of UHW-W's headquarters.
Decertification campaigns are never easy steps for members to take. But, when members of a local pay dues and vote in their own elections, they expect representation by their union, including at the very top. No union is to big to fail, including SEIU. Mr. Stern seems bent on having it his way or no way. When that doesn't happen, the members have every right to vote no confidence in their leadership. That is why NUHW was formed last week and these tactics by the International only makes it much worse, tarnishing not only SEIU's image but the image of labor.
In addition, interfering in CNA's up-coming elections for its own board of directors if true, is more proof of the on-going attempts by SEIU, to continue its hostility to against CNA and its more militant stances. Picking a fight with CNA and spending dollars on expensive mailers and endless phone polls, last year, to tarnish the nurse's union image after SEIU busted into a "Labor Notes" convention was stupid and childish behavior to say the least. Accusing it of stopping union formation in Ohio was twisting the facts beyond comprehension. I'd call it "whistle-blowing" on a hasty and under-handed selection of representation without a real, above board campaign by SEIU.
If SEIU-I, keeps this up, diverting more dues money to these hate-filled and under-handed campaigns to interfer in another union's elections like CNA/NNOC or to bully former SEIU members not to vote for a new union for themselves that would better reflect them, NUHW may have more company in the future.

Posted by Nancy Lewis, FNP on Feb. 08, 2009 @ 6:05 am

Yeah Fuck SEIU and their bullshit lies.

Posted by Mario on Mar. 12, 2009 @ 6:45 pm

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