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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rosselli: Andy Stern Retirement Would End 'Sad Chapter' in SEIU History

Posted By on Tue, Apr 13, 2010 at 2:40 PM

click to enlarge seiu_nuhw.gif
Today's news that Service Employee International Union Boss Andy Stern plans to announce his retirement this week was met with a scathing career obituary from his west coast rival Sal Rosselli, who said Stern will be known for abetting  corruption and quashing union democracy while cutting sweetheart deals with employers.

Rosselli's breakaway National Union of Healthcare Workers last week lost a $750,000 judgment based on allegations the union used SEIU resources as members worked to form a new union. NUHW supporters, meanwhile, say the verdict will be appealed.

Interestingly, a new book, Labor's Civil War in California: The NUHW

Healthcare Worker's Rebellion by Cal Winslow, credits articles

published in SF Weekly for inflaming the Rosselli/Stern breach

that eventually resulted in a west coast union dissolution, raising doubts

nationwide about Stern's leadership.

From Winslow's tome regarding the split of the SEIU and the United Healthcare Workers, then the SEIU's west coast affiliate:

"The SEIU-UHW dispute became public in April 2007, when SF Weekly writer Matt Smith disclosed the contents of leaked SEIU contracts, memos, and reports related to the Alliance issues, including the UHW document, The California Alliance Agreement. Smith, not always the favorite of UHW leaders, took apart the 2003 nursing home agreement and concluded ... journalists had failed to find out just "what exactly [Stern] was talking about." If they had, they would have discovered a "monumental catch" -- the workers who joined the SEIU as part of the 2003 agreement, an agreement that is supposed to be a national model for corporate collaboration, "get a severely stripped-down version of union representation."

Stern was furious; a campaign of charactger assassination was unleashed, one aimed not just at Rosselli. The UHW was charged with, among other things, opposition to "employer agreements" and concern only about "polishing the apple" for its own members, not about organizing workers outside California. Rosselli, responding directly to Stern, denied UHW responsiblity for the leaked documents... Rosselli also expressed concern about the "lack of a safe environment within SEIU to voice disagreement." We've seen quite clearly" in the fallout from the SF Weekly article, "that it is not acceptable for leaders to disagree. Disagreement is equated with disloyalty."
Ironically, hilariously, tragically -- take your pick -- I can tell you that I was never aware of any involvement by Rosselli in my obtaining and writing about those documents.

What follows is the text of Rosselli's Tuesday statement regarding news of Stern's retirement.

If the reports are true, and Andy Stern steps down as the head of the SEIU, a sad chapter in the once proud union's history will come to an end.

Stern's legacy is that he took control of an organization built by more than a million hardworking janitors, healthcare workers, and public servants, and used their resources primarily to secure his own political power.

Instead of helping SEIU members fight for better jobs and better patient care, Stern gave himself the authority to cut secret deals with corporations and trade away members' rights.

Instead of helping working people build their own organizations, he "restructured" existing unions, crushed democracy, and put his own loyalists in charge: appointees like Tyrone Freeman and Annelle Grajeda, who could always be trusted to vote with Stern, even if they couldn't be trusted to keep their hands out of the till. Stern's allies have been exposed for financial corruption and connected to the Blagojevich pay-to-play scandal.

Instead of uniting the labor movement's strength, Stern tore apart the AFL-CIO and created the "Change to Win" federation, only to tear apart Change to Win four years later with an unprecedented raid on SEIU's closest partner in the federation, Unite Here.

Last year, tens of thousands of SEIU healthcare workers in California realized that if they wanted to stand up for their patients and fight for their work to be valued, they would have to do it in an independent union outside SEIU. When Stern came to take control of their local union, they founded the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Stern's multi-million-dollar fights against these healthcare workers and against Unite Here have diverted resources away from healthcare reform and employee free choice, weakening the former and scuttling the latter. These wars of choice have taken a toll on the union's finances as well as on Stern's credibility.

Wherever Stern parachutes himself next, he will leave a workers' organization in disarray, with a crisis of leadership from top to bottom. His likely successors, Mary Kay Henry and Anna Burger, have been tarred by the same ethics scandals and failed policies that marred his tenure. Stern's legacy is that SEIU has become a rogue union, undemocratic, unable to pay its bills, and unwilling to defend its members at the national level.

The challenge for SEIU is not simply to choose a successor, but to reverse years of bad policy, restore accountability, and steer away from the brink.

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Matt Smith


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