Healthy Growth?

What happens when 91 percent of eligible Service Employees International Union members do not vote on two options to merge health care locals in California? Just ask the international executive board of the SEIU. After the nine percent vote, the SEIU board voted Jan. 9 to create a single union of long-term (home care and nursing home) workers statewide.


Three locals would form the proposed new health care union of 240,000 workers: Local 521 in San Jose, Local 6434 in Los Angeles and United Healthcare Workers-West in Oakland. According to the SEIU, the new union of a quarter-million long-term care would be better able to resist state spending cuts due to California’s growing budget deficit, a consequence of the collapsing real estate market.


The SEIU says in part that a single union will help to build unity against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed spending cuts to human services. An example is the In-Home Supportive Services program, which serves 400,000 infirm and low-income Californians. 


“Under the reorganization, California long term care workers will be among the most powerful political and economic forces in the state—positioned to fight draconian budget and wage cuts and to press for meaningful long term budget solutions in Sacramento,” said Michelle Ringuette of the SEIU in a press statement. It is worth noting that the UHW is not the only union whose members care for IHHS patients.


The UHW, with 65,000 members who labor in long-term care, opposes the SEIU’s bid for consolidation. UHW President Sal Rosselli and 71 of the union’s elected officers sent a Jan. 9 letter to SEIU President Andy Stern, requesting permission for members to vote on disaffiliating from the SEIU.


This UHW missive notes that the SEIU constitution provides a procedure for a disaffiliation vote within 60 days. So what is the problem? At the same time, the constitution forbids members or officers to support this ballot. According to the UHW, Stern requested the inclusion of this language into the constitution last year: “no officer of a local union … shall support or assist any efforts to dissolve, secede or disaffiliate from the International Union.” Those who violate this language are subject to disciplinary action.


Recent coverage in the LA Times and NY Times has omitted this free speech issue in the SEIU and UHW conflict. That omission influences the view of both unions in the court of public opinion.


Meanwhile, the UHW members’ vote to disaffiliate from the SEIU may be a moot point. Consider this.


“National SEIU officials are expected to launch a hostile takeover of UHW” in a matter of days, according to a Jan. 18 press release from Sadie Crabtree of the UHW. If that takeover, or trusteeship, does occur, it would be on the watch of President Obama. Both the SEIU and UHW campaigned for him last fall.




Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento ssandronsky@yahoo.com

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