It seems like only yesterday that Andy Stern, who heads the giant Service Employees International Union (nearly two-million members), shocked the labor movement when, in July, 2004, he told the Washington Post's David Broder that both organized labor and the Democratic Party might be better off with John Kerry losing that year's election. The two institutions, said Stern, had become unresponsive and needed to needed to evolve out of their “archaic structures.” Shortly after these words, Stern and several other union leaders would help fulfill his Kerry prophesy by walking out of the AFL-CIO and forming Change to Win, a rival organization.
Today the media is full of SEIU news — but most of it isn't about evolving out of archaic structures. Quite the opposite. First there was the L.A. Times' expose of alleged corruption and cronyism charges leveled against L.A. local presidents Tyrone Freeman and Annelle Grajeda. Then attention shifted to Rickman James, a Freeman associate whom the SEIU international office has sacked from the presidency of the union's largest Michigan local. And this week, of course, SEIU had suffered the defiling touch of indicted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who has emerged as an irrepressible throwback to his states' storied history of political corruption.
The fortune cookie version of events is that Blagojevich tried to
leverage a position as the head of Change to Win — supposedly in
exchange for the guv opening White House doors for SEIU. The problem with
this scenario is that, because of SEIU's early support of Barack Obama's
presidential campaign, and through its massive get-out-the-vote effort
on behalf of Obama, the union doesn't need Blagojevich to open any
doors for it — SEIU already has a swipe card to the front gate of 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue. Also, according to Change to Win sources, the
position Blagojevich supposedly sought is an unpaid one. (Although Blago
seems to have been a man who saw an opportunity to trade favors
anywhere. Perhaps he thought as
the head of Change to Win he'd score a few free Labor Day breakfasts.)
possibly weakening its clout with Obama (SEIU's woes are providing the
president-elect with an opportunity to distance himself from his
campaign promises to labor, should he desire to do so), the
international SEIU's bad P.R. is emboldening its California dissident
members to push back against Stern's relentless campaign to strip
unruly state locals of their popular leaders by consolidating these
locals into huge mega-locals. Today, at 4:30 p.m., some of those dissidents will rally
outside the LAX Radisson, where ballots are being counted on a proposal
to merge their locals into the new statewide super-local. Protesters from the United Healthcare
Workers branch of the SEIU claim the election was rigged,
because only 28,000 ballots are being tallied, while UHW says 80,000 of
its members signed cards declaring their opposition to the election.
Furthermore, the dissidents say the ballot only offers two choices
relating to details of the merger — but not whether to accept or reject the
“It's a choice of getting shot in the left knee or the right knee,” said one union member.