The Service Employees International Union under President Andrew Stern, as this publication has noted more than once, is committed to maximizing membership in its own ranks and in the labor movement as a whole.Part of this ongoing campaign involves backing union-friendly political office-seekers. But in Southern California this alliance has produced a downside:bad publicity and a pair of investigations.The focus of attention is SEIU Local 6434, also known as the United Long-Term Care Workers, and its embattled president, Tyrone Freeman.On Thursday, August 21, Bernard Parks, a Democratic candidate for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, demanded that his opponent, Mark Ridley-Thomas, also a Democrat, return more than $4.5 million raised by a union-led alliance whose driving force is Freeman.
The Service Employees International Union rarely, if ever, has kept a lid on its political leanings.From 1980 through the mid 1990s under President John Sweeney, and since then under his successor, Andrew Stern, the Washington, D.C.-based union has invested enormous energy into building a progressive-Left political campaign infrastructure.There’s nothing illegal about that.Employers aren’t exactly shy about their own political machinery either.But it’s the law that the SEIU, no more than any other union, may not coerce rank and file into making contributions. And evidence suggests the union, now with some 1.9 million members, may be doing just that.The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, for one, is exercised to the point of requesting a federal investigation.
The Service Employees International Union is a leader when it comes to wielding a now-common weapon in American unionism’s strategic arsenal:the corporate campaign.As Wackenhut has learned for the last couple years, the SEIU knows how to conduct a multi-pronged attack against an employer’s reputation. Whether through demonstrations, media campaigns or boycotts (among other tactics), the purpose is always the same:to induce surrender by the targeted corporation on key issues, often beginning with recognition of the union as the sole collective bargaining agent.The Service Employees, which represents about 1.9 million security guards, janitors, health care workers and other primarily unskilled employees, for a little over a year has broadened its target range to include private-equity funds.These institutional investors, though usually not publicly-traded, are best-known for engineering buyouts of public companies. And as they bring major corporations under their wing (e.g., last year’s purchase of Chrysler by Cerberus Capital Management), anti-corporate activism by necessity to a great extent now also means anti-equity fund activism.
A good many of America’s labor unions have learned to fear and loathe the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO.Fighting a RICO suit can mean costly legal bills, and possibly (as the Teamsters can attest), a settlement leading to tight and longstanding federal oversight.Perhaps less known, however, is that unions themselves may sue under the law.And their target can be another union, not just an employer.Such is the case in what appears to be a David-and-Goliath battle within organized labor – at least in the minds of the organization holding the slingshot.On April 10, the Allied International Union (AIU) announced it had filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its flagship New York City affiliate, Local 32BJ.The suit charges the SEIU with racketeering, extortion and fraud. It’s a dramatic set of charges.But they just might hold up.
The Service Employees International Union is growing at a time when most other unions are not.It now has 1.9 million dues-paying members, a near doubling from early 1996 when current President Andrew Stern took over the helm.Things, in other words, have worked out according to plan.Stern’s grow-or-die gospel is central to the way his union organizes and negotiates.It’s also the main reason for the eventual split that occurred between him and his predecessor, John Sweeney, who ascended to the AFL-CIO leadership.That split became formalized in the summer of 2005, when the SEIU and a half-dozen other AFL-CIO affiliates formed their own federation, Change to Win.But Stern has opponents within his own union, too, most of all in the form of Sal Rosselli, head of a 140,000-member, Oakland, Calif.-based affiliate, United Healthcare Workers-West.Union Corruption Update reported last year that Rosselli was highly dissatisfied with the way SEIU leaders from Washington, D.C. headquarters apparently strong-armed into being a substandard contract between UHW-West and California nursing home operators.Relations since have deteriorated further.
The Service Employees International Union never has been bashful about making a point.A little more than two decades ago, then-President John Sweeney, along with top aide Andrew Stern, hit upon an ingenious idea for organizing hotel and office building employees.The campaign would be called “Justice for Janitors.”First in Denver, and then in other U.S. cities, SEIU workers/demonstrators would rattle noisemakers at ear-splitting volume, chant, shout, and block sidewalk and/or street traffic in a coordinated effort to persuade building subcontractors to recognize the union and negotiate higher wages and benefits.It generated a lot of attention, but more importantly, victories; intimidated subcontractors typically gave into union demands.Thanks in large measure to Justice for Janitors, the Service Employees have boosted their ranks – now up to around 1.8 million – while membership in most other unions either has stagnated or declined.The campaign also helped propel Stern to the union presidency following Sweeney’s election as AFL-CIO president in the fall of 1995. A decade later Stern would pull his union out of the AFL-CIO and launch his own federation, Change to Win.
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 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.
The United Food and Commercial Workers don’t like taking “no” for an answer, especially when it comes to dealing with employees not seeking to join.That would appear to be the case in California.The 1.4-million-member UFCW is a fast-growing union and a member of the AFL-CIO’s breakaway federation, Change to Win.Change to Win President Andrew Stern and UFCW International President Joe Hansen are seeking dramatic boosts in membership.But the National Labor Relations Board this past May made clear that suppressing dissent isn’t a legitimate tactic to realize those gains.
When the stakes are high, the real crime story usually lurks beneath the respectable surface.That seems to be the case, at any rate, for the new labor federation, Change to Win (CTW). The group, which comprises seven unions with a combined roughly 5.5 million members, held its gala inauguration in St. Louis on September 27.Organizing millions of new workers is priority number one, announced CTW President Anna Burger, who also serves as political director for the 1.8 million-member Service Employees International Union.Her boss, SEIU President Andrew Stern, made the same point, as did Teamster President James P. Hoffa.Somehow the issue of corruption never came up.