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
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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."