UHW's Rosselli Backs Away from Breakaway Threat

In a telephone press conference held today at his Oakland headquarters, Sal Rosselli was sounding conciliatory. Or was he? Earlier this month, when the executive board of the Service Employees International Union voted to merge three long-term health-care locals into one mega-unit, Rosselli's local, known as the United Healthcare Workers-West, announced it was exploring the option of disaffiliating from the parent SEIU group. Rosselli has been fighting SEIU president Andy Stern's plan to remove 65,000 of Rosselli's 150,000 members and place them in a super-local that until recently was headed by disgraced president Tyrone Freeman. Stern has also been seeking to further neutralize the rebellious UHW by placing it in a trusteeship that would basically make it a ward of the SEIU.

Last week, the outside arbitrator tasked with settling the issue found

Rosselli and his colleagues had violated union rules in setting up a

slush fund to fight Stern and that UHW was willfully insubordinate to

the international's decisions. Still, the arbitrator did something

unprecedented in this proceedings -- he stopped a little short of

recommending trusteeship for UHW. Instead, he said it should be allowed

to stay autonomous as long as it immediately began following Stern's


Rosselli began today's news conference by talking about

compromise and playing down the earlier threat of disaffiliation as

simply a response to pressure from his rank and file who were seeking

options to resist Stern's mandates. Rosselli said that 5,000 UHW leaders had

met over the weekend in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento

and Fresno, and had voted to  accept a "compromise to end the civil

war." The problem is that Stern's arbitrator, former Labor Secretary Ray Marshall, said UHW must begin

implementing a range of policy changes -- including the three-local

merger -- almost immediately.

Instead, Rosselli was now

proposing a yearlong "reconciliation process" involving a timeline,

unspecified benchmarks and an outside mediator -- all of which would,

in about a year's time, result in a vote being taken by the affected UHW members on

whether they wanted to join the new super-local. At the heart of his

proposal, Rosselli said, was the need for his members to elect their

own leaders and not have them appointed by Stern. (Under the terms of

trusteeship, Stern-appointed officers can serve up to three years

without an election.)

That's not going to sound like compromise

to Stern and his executive board in Washington, D.C., where they had previously declared

themselves the winners of a December merger vote  -- which they claimed had settled

the issue. That election had been boycotted by most UHW members as

undemocratic because it didn't ask the question if members favored the

merger, just how it would be implemented.  As of this posting the SEIU

headquarters had not responded to Rosselli -- who, during his news conference, labeled Ray Marshall's recommendations "an ultimatum."

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