New Orleans It’s amazing to me how many people came up to me over the last week on the East Coast and mentioned having read my recent blog about “Pink Sheeting and One-on-One’s” in UNITE-HERE and elsewhere in the labor movement. Google analytics tells me that this is most frequently visited current item on the list.
An email shared with me by some young labor organizers who were veterans of the Cornell program reminded me how destructive such conflict is to the future of the labor movement. An SEIU organizer was recounting the struggles to put together a majority in a unit of a couple of hundred workers over a number of months to suddenly find six UNITE/HERE organizers swoop down to turn the unit topsy-turvy. There are probably similar stories with the union’s names reversed. All of this redefines the “race to the bottom” in union membership and relevance for working people in America.
Other former organizers tried to pull me on either side of the divide. An ex-AFSCME organizer told me about a recent fundraiser in Montclair for the divisive effort being led by Sal Roselli in the Bay Area. He was interrupted by an SEIU contractor who had done some communications work in California telling him he had no clue of what was going on. I left them still arguing the fine points of this disaster.
Most interesting to me have been the messages from ex-UNITE/HERE folks chiding me for being too easy on John Wilhelm and protective of Carl Lechow, the long time organizing director for HERE. In my earlier piece I assumed that Wilhelm and Lechow were distracted and the pink sheeting was an aberration and the “one-on-one’s” simply out of control. These folks believed they both knew and encouraged these kinds of practices. It is so contrary to my experience with either of these brothers, that I simply can’t believe it, so I won’t, but neither have I have wanted to really believe the Synanon period of the farmworkers until at this point there seems no way to deny its existence and impact.
The best news shared with me on the trail was the rumors that there may finally be a real resolution and a true peace in this inhospitable conflict between SEIU and UNITE/HERE. The architect of this potential settlement seems to have been Joe Hanson, president of the UFCW, who from what several people shared with me, has been indefatigable in trying to keep front doors, back doors, and all channels open in pursuit of an agreement. What both parties are reviewing now was described as a “tough, but fair” settlement with each side having to eat some good portions of crow and a fair division of units and assets. All of which is dandy for the accountants, but most importantly in my view I also heard that there would be real clarity and a complete understanding on organizing jurisdiction and that would be huge.
The only happy ending to this tawdry episode would be a real agreement on jurisdiction that once again paves the way for unions that have been committed to organizing, having their sights clearly trained on real targets and the objective of building mass organization among hospitality and other low wage service workers who desperately demand their own organizations and the right to fight for a better future at their workplaces. To me it all seems to come down to whether or not President Wilhelm wants to keep fighting or to have peace and get back to organizing, since he has had the strongest cards in his hand throughout this mess. John Wilhelm has been a seminal organizer and leader for hospitality workers in our time. I hope he sees a way to be a leader here in binding the wounds of our crippled labor movement.