Union Disunity SF Weekly Article

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Apr 12 2007 12:39
Union Disunity SF Weekly Article

Union Disunity
The secret deal worked out between SEIU bosses and nursing home owners denies union members the right to speak out, strike, or protect patients

By Matt Smith
Published: April 11, 2007

“With time, my loss of Cassie began to transform the way I approached life.”

—Andy Stern, Getting America Back on Track: A Country That Works, Simon & Schuster, 2006

“It is as if he cant help conflating the fate of workers with the fate of his daughter.”

—Matt Bai, New York Times Magazine, Jan. 30, 2005

“When she died it broke my heart,” he says. “It just gave me the strength to say, ‘Speak out; dont be afraid.'”

“One brave thing he's done is pursue a partnership with corporate America.”

—Leslie Stahl, CBS News, May 14, 2006

In the above excerpted narrative, repeated ad nauseam in Service Employees International Union (SEIU) press materials, union president Andy Stern emerged from a personal catastrophe differently than others who face crisis in middle age.

Stern did not turn to sports cars, young girlfriends, adventure athletics, or otherwise immerse himself in narcissism after his 13-year-old daughter died from surgery complications, his wife later divorced him, and he took to dining alone in bars.

Instead, Stern has said in his book and to newspaper and magazine writers, the 2002 personal tragedy caused him to become something of a combined Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King, a futuristic innovator applying his genius to empowering disenfranchised workers in his 1.8-million-member SEIU, where Stern became president in 1996.

The union left the umbrella of the AFL-CIO in 2005, based on the idea that the old trades federation was a stodgy, backward-looking organization not focused enough on growth.

Key to Stern's characterization of himself as a new, different type of labor leader is his assertion that the SEIU is leaving behind the old class-struggle-style unionism pitting employees against bosses. In its place is a modern template where workers and employers seek to advance interests they hold in common.

"Employees and employers need organizations that solve problems, not create them," Stern wrote in A Country That Works. "Nursing home owners and SEIU leaders are formulating a new national labor-management committee and new state-based relationships to promote quality and employer economic stability. In California, the industry and union worked with the legislature on a plan to enhance quality in nursing homes, stabilize the work force, and provide more resources for direct patient care."

However, there's another trove of literature describing the recent history of Stern's SEIU, one that's quite different than the Cassie-focused genre popular in newsstands and on bookshelves. It's contained in secret for-top-union-officials-eyes-only contracts, memos, lobbying agreements, and analysis reports obtained from various sources by SF Weekly. They illustrate the details of a sweetheart deal between the SEIU and California nursing home companies that impair, rather than empower, workers and patients, while inflating dues-paying union ranks.

Continued here: http://www.sfweekly.com/2007-04-11/news/union-disunity/

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Apr 12 2007 23:04

I can't believe no fringe unionists are jumping on this as a thread. Its making me sad.

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Apr 12 2007 23:38

You've won Duke. You've broken their spirits.

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Apr 12 2007 23:42

Flint and I decided I'd post it here and he'd post it to infoshop and no comments on either. Totally bizarre. You'd think this would be like heroin for anarchists and syndicalists, no?

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Apr 12 2007 23:55

I don't understand; is this new?

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Apr 12 2007 23:57
OliverTwister wrote:
I don't understand; is this new?

brand new!

pgh2a
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Apr 13 2007 00:55

I think OliverTwister meant that we've been remarking that similar things have been going on for quite some time, though this is further confirmation.

I think this thread should be moved to the "organize" section. I've met plenty an SEIU staff member who is quite passionate about this method for building density in industries before the real battle takes place -- those staff members talk like they favor an out-and-out class war, but the statements of Stern, et al., seem to belie those sentiments.

Of course, this may be a strategy for gaining more density, but is it a method which is going to build enough faith in the union in the eyes of its members to have them help push it along? The article also takes issue with whether density couldn't be built in other ways, and implies that what this really appears to be is a sweetheart deal with the boss which in some cases prevents further organizing.

It also seems like there is such a cozy relationship between SEIU piecards and the bosses that there will never be a time where that relationship is transformed into something else. What is this model teaching workers? What opportunity for real democratic involvement do they have, both in the union, and in their particular workplace and industries?

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Apr 13 2007 01:10

Well let me ask some questions in no particular order.

1. Is the article about the long term care division's card check agreements or is that the authors foil?
2. Is this a journalist initiated story or a planted story?
3. Who's the "hero" in the article?
4. Whats the relation of this article to the NY article that came out about Dennis Riveira a couple of months ago?
5. Whats the significance of articles like this one and the riveira piece coming out as the union begins preperations for the 2008 SEIU convention?
6. Is it a strength or weakness that it looks like a bitter internal debate over the "labor struggle vs labor snuggle" visions for the future of the union?
7. How is it that the longterm care division would move towards one direction of growth, the building services another and the health systems another while all being nominally the same union?

I'll stop there for now.

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Apr 13 2007 02:09

Well, Rivera is leaving 1199 SEIU Heathcare Workers East in June to serve as President of the new consolidated Healthcare Workers Union/SEIU , if I am not mistaken. I am not sure of the NY article to which you are referring. Care to provide a link or relevant portions of text?

Rosselli, President of Healthcare Workers West, is clearly the "hero."

Is your position that the article is meant to weaken Stern and his (assumed) ally, Rivera for a showdown over the future of the Healthcare division of SEIU?

How does that change the criticism of Stern and the "organizing" SEIU has done in the healthcare industry?

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Apr 13 2007 02:10
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From: thugarchist
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Subject: C'mon I'm bored and stuck in hillbilly land with no car
Date: Thu, 12/04/2007 - 16:44

http://libcom.org/forums/north-america/union-disunity-sf-weekly-article

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I love you too Duke roll eyes

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Apr 13 2007 13:44
pghwob wrote:
Well, Rivera is leaving 1199 SEIU Heathcare Workers East in June to serve as President of the new consolidated Healthcare Workers Union/SEIU , if I am not mistaken. I am not sure of the NY article to which you are referring. Care to provide a link or relevant portions of text?

Rosselli, President of Healthcare Workers West, is clearly the "hero."

Is your position that the article is meant to weaken Stern and his (assumed) ally, Rivera for a showdown over the future of the Healthcare division of SEIU?

How does that change the criticism of Stern and the "organizing" SEIU has done in the healthcare industry?

I couldn't find the riveira article. Basically its just a big fluff piece about how well Riveira does building the union with a productive yet tough relationship to the boss. Blah blah and he'll be awesome as the VP of Health Systems. I will note that Dennis isn't exactly an ally of Stern's.

Riveira and Roselli are the two most powerful figures in SEIU. Not Stern.

So if Riveira and Roselli are planting stories in the run up to the convention... its important to note.

Now it doesn't change the critique about Stern's theories on labor-capital cooperation. It does point to an ideological conflict occurring within the union.

Its also intersting to note that the article leads one to believe that Roselli is opposed to card check and neutrality agreements yet the neutrality agreement for Tenet was what consolidated his locals power and allowed it to swallow the other helath system locals in california. Which is further interesting since he's arguing for an industrial argument that the hospital indistry should be a one union fight in the west and now he's rejecting an industrial argument by fighting the long term care units doing the same.

Anyway, thats all only interesting if you care what happens to SEIU.

The pieces that should be interesting to you and others is that there's a ideological fight over industrial focus vs amalgamtion and struggle vs cooperation. Its been going on for a while and its beginning to become a public issue which is going to place it in the public domain.

As for neutrality agreements and card check agreements... they're good when they happen as the boss capitulating to the workers. They're bad when its a more important to grow than win. Fairly simple.

I have another reason why I like to pay attention to the lefts critique of specific big stories of mainstream unions but I'll keep that to myself unless there's some more interest in this article. If not... oh well. Too bad for me. smile

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Apr 13 2007 16:35

The author of this piece is a neo-liberal Democrat, his marketizing articles usually fit in with the line of his employer, New Times.

A fight between Roselli and Stern is a conflict internal to the bureaucracy. Roselli has also been willing to do deals with the bosses that sacrifice workers. He was elected by an opposition slate but that was a very long time ago, under a different SEIU regime.

But Stern's "Alliance" contracts with the nursing home companies are so extreme even Roselli can't stand it. In fact they are so extreme they can potentially discredit and deligitimize SEIU. Workers don't need a union to help enforce the employer's tyranny over them.

What's interesting about the article is it shows how far towards company unionism Stern is willing to go ito expand the dues base, and thus the basis of the income and prestige of the bureaucracy.

t.

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Apr 13 2007 16:40
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Now it doesn't change the critique about Stern's theories on labor-capital cooperation. It does point to an ideological conflict occurring within the union.

exactly. so if the content is accurate, the author's motivation can't undermine it.
quit being coy, thuggy - what's your opinion and why?

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Apr 13 2007 16:43
gatorojinegro wrote:

What's interesting about the article is it shows how far towards company unionism Stern is willing to go ito expand the dues base, and thus the basis of the income and prestige of the bureaucracy.

t.

It has nothing whatsoever to do with increasing dues base. Its an ideological conflict on how to create industrial density.

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Apr 13 2007 16:52
newyawka wrote:

exactly. so if the content is accurate, the author's motivation can't undermine it.
quit being coy, thuggy - what's your opinion and why?

My opinion on making bad agreements to increase density? I'm against it. Was that a question?

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Apr 13 2007 16:52

Yeah but is either ideology at all in the interests of the working class, or is this an internal fight between two different sets stage managers over how to 'direct' a parody of actual class struggle unionism?

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Apr 13 2007 16:58
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My opinion on making bad agreements to increase density?

your opinion on stern's methods of dealing with management.
unless your answer is contined in 'bad agreements'

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Apr 13 2007 16:59
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
Yeah but is either ideology at all in the interests of the working class, or is this an internal fight between two different sets stage managers over how to 'direct' a parody of actual class struggle unionism?

Depends on your point of view I suppose. Is your critique that if unions decide to cooperate with the boss for gains its bad and if unions decide to fight the boss for gains its also bad?

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Apr 13 2007 17:01
newyawka wrote:
Quote:
My opinion on making bad agreements to increase density?

your opinion on stern's methods of dealing with management.
unless your answer is contined in 'bad agreements'

thugarchist wrote:

As for neutrality agreements and card check agreements... they're good when they happen as the boss capitulating to the workers. They're bad when its a more important to grow than win. Fairly simple.)

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Apr 13 2007 17:07

I actually was just trying to get you to spout off but I guess you're mellowing a bit these days. Do you really think one side wants to fight? I'm honestly asking here.

I think I agree with you on card check agreements.

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Apr 13 2007 17:15
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
I actually was just trying to get you to spout off but I guess you're mellowing a bit these days. Do you really think one side wants to fight? I'm honestly asking here.

I think I agree with you on card check agreements.

Putting aside critiques of the bureaucracy (many of which are legitimate) for a second, there is a serious internal conflict on the issue thats been going on for a long time and is coming to a head. Its a real and authentic conflict. Now, what certain powerful personalities do with that conflict is another issue, but I think the prominence Stern has created for himself over the last years it may well spill over in major media and thus into popular debate. I'm fairly excited by that possability.

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Apr 13 2007 17:29

Hmm interesting, you should keep us posted, there is a major power struggle in the bureaucracy in my union brewing right now too.

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Apr 13 2007 17:34
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
Hmm interesting, you should keep us posted, there is a major power struggle in the bureaucracy in my union brewing right now too.

If there was an anarchist pole within mainstream working class social movements this public battle over militancy vs cooperation would also be important for anarchists. Oh well. groucho

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Apr 13 2007 18:03

Duke: "It has nothing whatsoever to do with increasing dues base. Its an ideological conflict on how to create industrial density."

Why does Stern want to increase density? What is the point, if not to expand his empire, which means more dues payers, more dues income, larger staff, more resources for the Stern bureaucracy to work with.

To argue that density increases worker bargaining power, one would have to assume it is workers who control the bargaining power.

t.

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Apr 13 2007 18:08
gatorojinegro wrote:
Duke: "It has nothing whatsoever to do with increasing dues base. Its an ideological conflict on how to create industrial density."

Why does Stern want to increase density? What is the point, if not to expand his empire, which means more dues payers, more dues income, larger staff, more resources for the Stern bureaucracy to work with.

To argue that density increases worker bargaining power, one would have to assume it is workers who control the bargaining power.

t.

And here comes why I like to get these conversations with the left.

This articles going to be use by the boss in a friend of mine's campaign. We were chatting about counter-acting the boss message which means predicting it. 99 times out of 100 y'all and the boss run the same rap.

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Apr 13 2007 18:55

That doesn't answer the argument, Duke. The employers will use whatever ammo seems most likely to persuade the employees. they'll point to the holes in the unions. the fact that the employers do this doesn't show that the holes don't exist.

t.

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Apr 13 2007 19:05
gatorojinegro wrote:
That doesn't answer the argument, Duke. The employers will use whatever ammo seems most likely to persuade the employees. they'll point to the holes in the unions. the fact that the employers do this doesn't show that the holes don't exist.

t.

No, employers actually hold the same beliefs. Their anti-union arguments are not just ploys. If you've ever come face to face with pro union busters you'd know that they are generally ideologically committed to what they do. Y'all interpret things in exactly the same manner and make the same arguments. Certainly those interpretations lead you to far different conclusions, but... its still sadly hilarious.

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Apr 13 2007 22:34

i don't understand what you're saying. If employers are forced to deal with unions, they much prefer to deal with the top-down sort of union bureaucracy that Stern stands for. They do not favor the existence of unions that are directly controlled by the workers. They do not favor the existence of unions where workers are able to act as a force independent of management. I've been in a number of union-organizing situations, and the employers would prefer not to have to deal with unions at all. The anti-union propaganda of employers will paint any and every union as an independent bureaucracy not controlled by the workers, if that's what you mean. If they were sincere about this, then why do they use the same propaganda against unions where this is not true, or is a distortion?

And why is the opinions of employers the key thing for you?

t.

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Apr 13 2007 22:55

Well I mean I hate to say it but just because they are the enemy doesn't mean what they say is wrong. You don't base a strong argument on falsehoods you point out the legitimate problems with something and focus on that. I mean really Duke, if so many workers thought unions were such hot shit how come so many that are actually organising seem to face a lot of decertification campaigns.

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Apr 13 2007 22:58

that's bullshit, Duke. I would think most of us interpret these things in terms of whether workers themselves are involved in democratic unionism, and what strategies can most help us make gains for our class. That has nothing to do with how bosses analyze the situation, which for them is from the standpoint of how much profit they can continue to make, and of course, their "right" to own and manage their business. If anything, business union hacks such as Stern analyze the situation similarly to the bosses

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Apr 14 2007 13:11
gatorojinegro wrote:
i don't understand what you're saying. If employers are forced to deal with unions, they much prefer to deal with the top-down sort of union bureaucracy that Stern stands for. They do not favor the existence of unions that are directly controlled by the workers. They do not favor the existence of unions where workers are able to act as a force independent of management. I've been in a number of union-organizing situations, and the employers would prefer not to have to deal with unions at all. The anti-union propaganda of employers will paint any and every union as an independent bureaucracy not controlled by the workers, if that's what you mean. If they were sincere about this, then why do they use the same propaganda against unions where this is not true, or is a distortion?

And why is the opinions of employers the key thing for you?

t.

What was confusing? What I said was that union busters and the left make the same critiques about mainstream unionism and both honestly believe it. I didn't even say whether it was correct or incorrect critique. Nor did I say employers thoughts are "key" for me in any way, except that if you want to beat your enemy you should understand them to the level that you can predict their tactics. I also said it leads you to different conclusions, which if you weren't being a cock you'd naturally interpret as bosses don't want unions at all and you want libertarian worker organizations.

EdmontonWobbly wrote:
Well I mean I hate to say it but just because they are the enemy doesn't mean what they say is wrong. You don't base a strong argument on falsehoods you point out the legitimate problems with something and focus on that. I mean really Duke, if so many workers thought unions were such hot shit how come so many that are actually organising seem to face a lot of decertification campaigns.

You're making a mistake by relating two seperate things. All smart critiques are based on some element of truth. The value of those critiques is directly related to how much truth its based on. So I don't think we'd disagree there. As for decerts... there are very few worker initiated decerts. The ones that are worker initiated are generally in response to a real world horrible union. Most, however, are part of a campaign by the boss that pushes a decert by creating atmospheres of fear, intimidation, and empty promises. Your line on decerts is exactly a boss message and simply backs up my non-positional point that y'all have the same or similar critiques and analysis.

pghwob wrote:
that's bullshit, Duke. I would think most of us interpret these things in terms of whether workers themselves are involved in democratic unionism, and what strategies can most help us make gains for our class. That has nothing to do with how bosses analyze the situation, which for them is from the standpoint of how much profit they can continue to make, and of course, their "right" to own and manage their business. If anything, business union hacks such as Stern analyze the situation similarly to the bosses

Hah. I didn't impune your motivations behind making a critique. You're either being overly defensive or just plain stupid. I didn't say you have the same motivation as the boss. I did say you have the same critiques of mainstream unionism. I explicitly said those critiques lead you to very different conclusions.

----

Anyhoo... if folks actually think there's a real way to take your one-size-fits-all critiques and apply them it would tend to give one more example of a connection between your critiques and the bosses. You both have an ideological position that leads you to incorrectly analyze organizations by painting motivation and practices with one broad brush. Sterns out to create an empire to fullfill his need to build bureaucracy? You miss the real critique by saying absurd things. I'd say its 50-50 whether he even runs for president at this point. It was actually far more likely that he leaves the union to run a universal healthcare campaign. This article may push him back into the corner of staying though as powerful people often exhibit a weakness where they fight for something they don't want when under attack.

Personally, I choose not to let my basic assumptions interfere with my analysis, but rather let my analysis modify my basic assumptions. I could still be wrong of course. Thats a whole different issue.