Tag Archives: Sal Rosselli

Oh, No, Déjà vu All Over Again for SEIU in California

seiu_uhw_colorHouston  If labor doesn’t have enough problems, all we need is another breakout of internecine warfare.

One of the most difficult and divisive disputes in recent decades, since maybe the P9 meatpacking struggle in Minnesota, occurred a half-dozen years ago in Northern California between former SEIU Local 250 renamed SEIU United Healthcare Workers’ West (SEIU-UHW) and the Service Employees International Union.  Northern California being northern California, way too many people out there and elsewhere picked sides, whether they knew the issues or not.  Some claimed it was all about union democracy.  Others said it was a plain and simple internal jurisdictional argument.  All agreed there was ego, ambition, and pride involved and that what should have and could have been resolved, spun dangerously, and expensively, out of control with neither Andy Stern from SEIU nor Sal Rosselli from the local surviving the battle quite intact with both gone once the dust finally settled.  Most people stayed as clear of the mess as they could, and others declared a pox on both their houses.  It wasn’t pretty.

Whether union democracy or union jurisdiction, the trigger to the dispute was an SEIU reorganization plan ordered by the International Executive Board to create one longterm care local union in California just as there was one hospital union, now SEIU-UHW.  Even lopping off this piece left the remaining SEIU-UHW with 80,000 members and still in the top ranks of the US-labor movement as one of the largest locals in the country.  Dave Regan, a leader of SEIU 1199 OH/WV/KY, either drew the straw, or asked for it, to go out there and be the trustee and fight in the trenches to take over the local and implement the order.

My history with Rosselli was strained because my comrade and friend, Mark Splain, from the ACORN family of organizations, had been the trustee of 250 back in an earlier mess, but Rosselli won a bitter, rainy day election, and I developed a working relationship with him and over time a separate peace of sorts.  I liked Dave Regan and had a great working relationship with him both within SEIU and with ACORN.  He was one of the lonely few that joined me on the IEB in the straw poll for John Edwards for example.  We spent time together, and it was good times.  You could count on a small number of fingers who might end up as the international president in his generation and he was right at the point.  Hal Ruddick, who had spent nearly a decade in Local 100 ended up as chief negotiator for SEIU-UHW.   Everything being equal, once there was peace in the valley, I thought they would do a great job for workers there.   After Rosselli had made his bed and split his pieces off, I thought he would do well, sleeping in it.  He’s a talented, creative leader and negotiator, and I was confident that he was one of the few out there that could grow a local from little more than grit and spit, and once it was all over but the shouting, he’s done that, and workers are the better for it to my way of thinking.

Now, there are reports that the healthcare union world of California is on the way to going crazy again, which is a total head scratcher.  The International union under new president, Mary Kay Henry, who incidentally had been the unsuccessful secretary-treasurer candidate with Splain in the last century, not surprisingly re-issued the six-year old order to create one long-term healthcare unit of nursing home and homecare workers in California.  The same order Regan was dispatched as a trustee to enforce when everyone went to the mattresses in Cali.   SEIU wants Local 521 and UHW to make it happen.

Truth is stranger than fiction, and who can sort this out at this point, but the SEIU-UHW board with my brother Dave Regan at its head seems to be trying to organize against the original order that was his mandate.   A thinly veiled resolution was passed by the local.  A not too objective poll was plopped on the members to build their support for standing pat.  I even heard that SEIU-UHW had picketed the International’s headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington.

Once again SEIU-UHW would be a strong, strapping 80,000 members.News reports are trumpeting a great contract just concluded at Kaiser led by Hal Ruddick as executive director running the team.  Agree or disagree, Regan still has a vision for the labor movement nationally and is coming off a jawboning, heavy bluff-and-feint concession from the California hospital association which darned near gives the union organizing neutrality.

Say it’s not so.  This can’t be déjà vu all over again.  Same song, second verse.

We can’t seem to win for losing these days.


Union Organizing Depressions in the Bay Area

Former SEIU official Sal Rosselli

San Francisco   One conversation after another with union organizers, organizing directors, and veteran labor activists in the Bay Area over a 24-hour period was enough to trigger a profound fog of depression over any hopes for labors near term revival.  There were a long list of symptoms with no consensus on the full nature of the disease and even less feeling that any hopes for a cure were imminent.

No small consideration among the confusion and consternation still revolves around the bitter and enduring internecine struggle within the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its huge California healthcare local headquartered here.  A rerun election is still pending between SEIU and the rump local headed by former SEIU official Sal Rosselli.  Despite the quixotic odds of Rosselli, succeeding war drums are beating throughout the Bay and beyond.  Rosselli has fashioned an amalgamation or affiliation with the International Association of Machinists (IAM) which not only provides them institutional cover within the AFL-CIO but some ballast from its ever quotable and brash President Buffenbarger.  One knowledgeable source told me that the Machinists had committed the resources of 100 paid organizers to work for the Rosselli local, which will no doubt be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled by Mary Kay Henry at the SEIU International level and everything that Dave Regan and his SEIU incumbent local can throw at this as well.

If this wasn’t enough SEIU drama, I also repeatedly heard stories of fights between Regan’s local and the largely public employee members of SEIU 1021 in the Bay Area as well as over political candidates and other area strategic concerns.  Political organizers I know well were claiming that the price tag on independent expenditures on a San Francisco County supervisors race  is at the center of the dispute, and one in which the rest of labor including the central body and the building trades have joined, will likely register at $1 million, which is shocking for a local race at that level.  Mediators, money, consultants, and others are sticking to this fracas like ants on honey with no resolution in sight it seems.

No doubt the message is already coming through the fog.   While the house of labor is sliding into the Pacific, there are huge battle royals not for growth but to arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

How about the Walmart organizing campaign which some argue is the only really big effort being engaged anywhere by unions?  I was shocked and surprised to find that the warehouse and distribution workers that are being targeted by the campaign in California are not the directly owned and operated distribution centers run by Walmart where they have huge investments and skin in the game, and where we had a lot of experience in Merced and elsewhere, but the contract warehouses and port breakdown centers which Walmart could abandon at the first hint of organizing.  I could get no real confirmation that the overall and longterm commitment of UFCW to this campaign and organizing this company had measurably increased since the efforts we managed with WARN and the Walmart Workers’ Association in Florida.  One wag talked about too many “Hegelian strategies” at the top of unions that were grand visions without no real world on the ground understanding of the work and workers that would move organizing progress.

march against Wal-Mart in Los Angeles

At the point one organizer started talking about 50,000 unorganized garment workers in Los Angeles County and no one was clear whether HERE or SEIU was really the union for garment workers, but everyone was clear that no one was even vaguely thinking about organizing but a garment worker center in LA with less than 150 members, I knew it was time to change the subject to almost anything else other than whether or not the new hope for labor is coming out of California these days.