Mia Camille Garza describes herself as "somebody who has fallen off the path." Her victims understandably aren't as charitable. Last Thursday, September 22, Garza, a former benefits clerk for the California-based, Service Employees International Union-affiliated United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), was sentenced in Sacramento Superior Court to 12 years and four months in prison for stealing information on nearly 30,000 union employees of Kaiser Permanente facilities throughout the state. The stolen information facilitated thefts, often of high-end merchandise, estimated thus far at more than $1 million. Garza pleaded no contest to 12 counts of identity theft on August 3. She's preparing for a restitution hearing on January 10. She already had been convicted in Contra Costa County, California on separate charges and sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.
The ongoing battle between the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and a major California health care workers affiliate for the last several months has been in its special-ops phase. And the parent union, not happy over its sudden bad publicity, may owe a substantial sum to the security firm it hired to keep the peace. On May 1, the OSO Group, Ltd. sued the SEIU and an allied security firm in San Francisco federal court, demanding back payment for surveillance and security services related to a trusteeship that the SEIU imposed upon the dissident Oakland-Calif.-based United Health Workers-West (UHW) in January. OSO has close ties to a union-busting company that broke a UHW strike four years ago.
The insurrection by a major California affiliate of the Service Employees International Union against Washington, D.C. headquarters is getting closer by the month to an all-out confrontation.The dissenting faction, known as United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) and led by Sal Rosselli, for the last couple years has been openly critical of international President Andrew Stern and his top lieutenants for focusing on membership expansion at the expense of quality contracts.On September 17, nearly 30 members of the Oakland, Calif.-based local took the battle to a new level, filing a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that accuses SEIU leaders of suppressing their rights.The action, a retort to a failed action this spring by the parent union, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.
Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, has a dream:to make organized labor mighty again.He views huge increases in membership, most of all in his own 1.8 million-member union, as central to this campaign.And with a hike in rank and file must come a new approach to collective bargaining, with unions being more businesslike in running their organizations and less adversarial in their negotiations with employers.The May 7 issue of Union Corruption Update, relying on an earlier story in the San Francisco Bay Area alternative newspaper, SF Weekly, reported that the SEIU, with strong guidance from Stern, has put together sweetheart deals with dozens of California health-care providers.The result has been severely substandard contracts for workers employed at dozens of health care facilities and a 140,000-member Oakland-based SEIU affiliate, United Healthcare Workers West (UHW), left out in the cold.UHW chieftain Sal Rosselli already has denounced the agreements as sellouts.Now he’s taken his fight to a higher level.
If the United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) had free reign – that is, freedom to operate independently of its SEIU overlords back east – what would be the result?Very likely, it would be an expansion of the Service Employees’ penchant for aggressive card-check procedures to organize employees.What Sal Rosselli and UHW organizers weren’t counting on was worker resistance, and successful resistance at that.On July 9, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled in favor of four Kaiser Permanente employees in Southern California who had filed unfair labor practice charges against the union only weeks earlier.The workers alleged that the UHW had engaged in a deceptive card-check campaign, telling nonunion employees that signing a card was merely a request for more information about unionizing rather than a formal endorsement of union recognition.What’s more, UHW-SEIU organizers allegedly engaged in unlawful bargaining over employee wages and working conditions before the employees had a chance to select the union as their representative.
If growth in numbers were all that mattered, the Service Employees International Union’s Andrew Stern would be America’s most successful labor leader, hands down.As a top lieutenant in that union to president and future AFL-CIO head John Sweeney, and then, starting in early 1996, as SEIU president himself, Stern has built his union into a powerhouse – “1.8 million members and growing,” to quote the union’s website.Supporters of mass immigration among organized labor officials point to the fact that a huge portion of that growth is attributable to foreign-born persons, especially from Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries.This, they argue, is evidence that Third World mass immigration is good for the SEIU and for unions as a whole.But growth may have come at a steep price:sweetheart deals that all but in name deliver substandard contracts for members. One large health-care workers’ local in California thinks Stern has sold out his people, a rift suggesting a major power struggle ahead within the Service Employees and its parent federation, Change to Win.