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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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June 3, 2008 9:19 AM

SEIU's new political plan

Posted by David Postman

One of the nation’s largest unions revamped its constitution at a convention in Puerto Rico yesterday. Among the changes at SEIU is system that will send more money from locals to union headquarters in D.C. SEIU Leaders say will use that to launch an unprecedented campaign to help elect Barack Obama president and send pro-union lawmakers to Congress.

In Washington state, the Service Employees International Union is the largest active unions. But the new union rules will see more dues money from members here going to finance campaign activities in states more likely to decide the presidential election. David Rolf, president of SEIU Healthcare 775NW, said:

I think there’ll be an exporting of resources and talents to some of the swing states to mobilize union members.

Rolf says SEIU will still be active in campaigns here. But, he said, “We aren’t seeing competitive races emerging all over the state.” That means money and resources can be sent elsewhere.

Rolf is a strong backer of SEIU International President Andy Stern. Stern pushed through an agenda at the quadrennial convention, called Justice for All. The Wall Street Journal reports that "will further consolidate bargaining and organizing efforts across industry lines, a move that could limit the power of local unions but give the union greater leverage with big employers."

There was an organized, but small, group opposing Stern’s plan. That opposition grows out of what The Nation calls “ The biggest union feud since the AFL-CIO split three years ago.”

As the Washington Post wrote last week:

According to his critics, Stern has made deals behind closed doors with corporations, keeping members in the dark about the trade-offs he has agreed to.

One of the first news stories that revealed details of those deals was done by the Times’ Ralph Thomas last year. Stern said yesterday in a speech that his plan will decentralize union power. That was challenged by SEIU member Anita Wiltz, writing at SEIUVOICE.org, where opponents are tracking the convention.

That's ridiculous! This plan might possibly be the biggest centralization of power in a labor union in recent history. It moves millions of dollars in dues money from local unions to SEIU headquarters in Washington, D.C. It removes local presidents from key leadership positions in the International's leadership infrastructure, replacing them with the SEIU president's inner circle.

But Rolf says that moving money to D.C. or to election battleground states is not about consolidating power.

It’s more of an understanding that we have to be a national union, to really reaffirm that justice for all doesn’t mean justice just for workers on the bright blue cities on the coasts or just justice for workers in a union job.

It will mean, though, an unprecedented shift in the union’s finances. Half of all SEIU budgets will go to the new national effort, which Stern is calling the “Accountability Project.”

The union will work to elect pro-labor members of Congress, but then spend an additional $10 million “to take on elected officials who fail to live up to their promises.” And that payback will happen in the first 100 days of Congress next year.

At least 50 percent of the union’s organizing budget and at least half its staff - at the national and local levels - will be used for the “Accountability Project.”

Here, Rolf says half his staff will be assigned to the task. That could mean going to D.C. to lobby Congress or elsewhere in the country to organize members. He acknowledges there are union members opposed to Stern’s grand plan.

There are those who think that these resources all ought to stay at home; that even in a global economy, decisions have to be made locally.

But as a strong Stern backer, Rolf is convinced the shift of money and power is the right move.

This is a chance to actually do something transformative for American workers and create a new middle class for the 21st Century. And if someone campaigns on a promise to help us do that then they have to be held accountable.

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Posted by John

10:40 AM, Jun 03, 2008


His first test!
Let's see if Obama rejects money from special Interest !
Is he really for change or just talk?


Posted by P

12:29 PM, Jun 03, 2008

SEIU and all the rest of the public sector unions should be disbanded once and for all! They have become an extension of the Democratic Party. There members are paid, by union donations, to run party organizing and action committees. Whereas the Republican Party only uses grassroots volunteers.

Why do these "public servants" need union representation at all? Congress always gives them whatever they want and then these very same unions spit in the faces of the very people they are here to serve, the taxpayers!

Posted by onevote

1:36 PM, Jun 03, 2008

The SEIU is the most vicious union in America today. SEIU is not just focused on electing pro-union members to Congress. They demand members of Congress who are terrified of SEIU and who will support every SEIU goal without question and without fail.

Posted by Tim in Seattle

2:24 PM, Jun 03, 2008

Sieu’s gross misuse of union funds in an intramural feud in Seattle to defeat Helen Somners was gross misuse of funds. Someone has to rein in the misplaced idiot ideologues who think they are political geniuses. I don’t know if diverting funds to nationally important elections will be the answer but the locals have proven that they are incompetent

Posted by V

2:35 PM, Jun 03, 2008

Since when does a working people's agenda constitute "special interests?"

Posted by John

3:39 PM, Jun 03, 2008

To V,
Special Interest is anyone who puts forth large sums of money to a politician or to a party for gaining support for his or her agenda, same as a lobbyist no difference from a Union, Oil companies, NRA, Boeing,Plan Parenthood or Halliburton.

Posted by Bothsides

3:58 PM, Jun 03, 2008

How is it legal for the union to take money from its members and provide it to one political party or the other?? (we all know what party gets it), having been a union member in the past, I was disgusted with this practice, if I want to support a candidate with my own money that's fine, however, when you are mandated to be in the union, they shouldn't be able to use YOUR money for their political cause. Where's the individual choice in that??

Posted by Turbine

4:16 PM, Jun 03, 2008

I would think that it should be illegal for any politicians to accept money from SEIU PAC's if they directly vote on any SEIU contracts.

Posted by upchuck

6:25 PM, Jun 03, 2008

sheesh! ...there's always a feew right wing idiots who think that working people getting together and taking action is a bad thing. = )

tell me peanut gallery, if voting and dues paying union members cannot be free to support political speech in their favor then who can be. don't like where the seiu comes down on the issues? then join their union and take one of their 'cushy' puplic sector jobs changing your aging parents' bed pans

Posted by Turbine

10:22 PM, Jun 03, 2008

Upchuck you are says it's OK to have the union fund the campaign of a public official that votes on their contract? Really? You see a potential for a conflict of interest there for the taxpayers?

Posted by Dee

11:10 PM, Jun 03, 2008

SEIU has become a thug organization, plain and simple.

Posted by AD

3:59 AM, Jun 04, 2008

You have to look no further than here in Washington State to see how labor unions buy politicians. They spent a TON of money and put Christine Gregoire in office (it took a while, but they got her in!) but they've gotten SO MUCH in return. The state budget has gone up 30% in four years and much of that taxpayer money is being spent to reward the unions who put her in office.

It's a simple business transaction. Democrats win. Labor unions win. Taxpayers... umm...

Posted by Bill

9:17 AM, Jun 04, 2008


It's sad, really. Turbine is high-functioning enough to post obsessively, but when it comes to reality-based communicating . . . let's just say he's challenged.

All we know about that big chip on Turbine's shoulder is that it is consuming him. He needs to do himself a favor, and spare us from having to read every internal dialogues he has with it. It’s like watching Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball. Unfortunately for us, Turbine thinks we all want to be out on his deserted island with him, listening to his ravings.

Ignore him, he’ll go away. Now that I think about it, the more likely scenerio is that he’ll be hauled away.

Posted by Ryan

9:42 AM, Jun 04, 2008

Whereas the Republican Party only uses grassroots volunteers.

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

heh heh heh heh...

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Oh man, that was a kneeslapper!

Posted by Turbine

10:24 AM, Jun 04, 2008

Nice to know you can take the time away from your duties at the Union Offices to share your thoughts with us. Maybe you can explain how why any elected official should be allowed to vote on a union contract after receiving union PAC money? Even you should be able to see the conflict of interest in that , particularly when it goes againt the best interests of the taxpayers. You can go back to ripping off the rank and file now.

Posted by John

10:49 AM, Jun 04, 2008

Last night BHO gave us his doctrine to take over the Oil companies like his buddy did in Venezuela.

The control of private industry with socialized labor is apparent.

This is the CHANGE the Rats want full government control of industry be it health care or energy.

He has lied to us and the real BHO emerged last night.

Posted by Bothsides

11:39 AM, Jun 04, 2008

"sheesh! ...there's always a feew right wing idiots who think that working people getting together and taking action is a bad thing. = )"

So upchuck, you're okay with being forced to join a union, paying dues and then having those dues spent on supporting Republican cadidates right....I doubt it, but the point is, it's okay to support YOUR candidate, but don't take MY money and support someone I don't agree with, in other words, keep union dues out of politics, they have no place there.

Posted by 2livecrew

1:03 PM, Jun 04, 2008

"you're okay with being forced to join a union, paying dues and then having those dues spent on supporting Republican cadidates right"

FYI- The money SEIU spends for politics comes from their PAC which is entirely OPTIONAL for employees to contribute. It's not dues money that's spent. Quit making false assumptions.

Posted by Turbine

2:20 PM, Jun 04, 2008

So answer the question 2livecrew. Should lawmakers who vote on SEIU contracts be allowed to accept SEIU PAC money?

Posted by Bothsides

11:48 AM, Jun 05, 2008

2livecrew,

Having been a union member, and having part of my dues taken for use in political campaigns, I'd hardly say I was making assumptions. A few years ago the states teachers union was found guilty of doing just that as well, and of course union political action committees with money that was "donated" are just fine.

Posted by upchuck

10:05 PM, Jun 05, 2008

oh and bothsides,

with only 15% of the combined public and private sector jobs currently unionized, i'd say that we all have plenty of options besides forced unionization. and union members can vote for new union leadership or quit if they fee like they're selling out on their ideals... despite your complaints, thank god it's still a marginally free country for working class people to organize politically.

Posted by Bothsides

2:21 PM, Jun 06, 2008

Upchuck, then you won't mind if your employer takes out $1 an hour of your wages to give it to their political party of choice! My point remains, it is wrong to take my money and spend it on something that I don't agree with, sure, if you're in a union, you can do those things you mention, however, can you believe that the union would represent everyone's interests, I don't think so. Like I said, they can form a PAC where you can voluntarily pay into it, but don't steal it from me.

Posted by Monty Reed Kroopkin

2:52 AM, Jun 07, 2008

Out of more than 10,000 members of SEIU Local 221 (in San Diego), only 56 voted for our convention delegates. More members signed my delegate candidate nominating petition! A committee of our provisional local’s appointed executive board engineered this tiny low turnout by simply not telling the membership where and when to vote. Most of the people voting were members and friends of the unelected e-board members who wanted to make sure they got themselves “elected” to go to the convention in Puerto Rico. They clearly enjoy having power and keeping it. They all say they believe in union democracy.

But actions speak louder than words. All over SEIU these undemocratic, indeed, these anti-union actions are speaking so loudly that we can hardly hear ourselves think.

We pulled out of the AFL-CIO and split the labor movement in North America, but I was never asked to vote on it. I, and probably most of SEIU, would have voted “NO” because dividing the labor movement, instead of building greater unity, is the most stupid thing we could possibly do. The membership was never asked.
My old local, Local 535 in California, was broken up and we were forced to join 4 new locals, all with unelected e-boards and officers. But Local 535 never voted to do that. A tiny fraction of the members of all the locals statewide even voted. Votes were not counted local by local. Restructuring in California did not result in a rational, single statewide public workers local. The rhetoric of increasing bargaining strength through consolidation is just rhetoric. 535 was already a statewide local, and it would have made sense to merge all the smaller locals to form one powerful statewide local, with proper attention to autonomy of community-level chapters and district councils. But 535 was one of the largest, most democratic and powerful local unions in SEIU. I think that is why Andy Stern and his faction wanted us broken up – to eliminate a power base that was not in his pocket. Our union dues and staff time was devoted to “selling” a “yes” vote on the statewide restructuring. No money was spent to give members pro and con ballot information. This was immoral.
When we were forced to join Local 221 on 3/1/07, Stern’s “personal representative”, Marc Earls, promised us a constitutional convention within 6 months, and new elections. Today, we still have unelected leadership. I have even heard the excuse that the members are not “ready” for a constitutional convention. Translation: Stern’s unelected team does not trust the members. E-board meetings are held in secret. Members are not even told the names and contact info of e-board members. Stewards cannot get a roster of our fellow stewards. Dissident rank and file leaders are kicked off union-management committees without any vote or hearing, or passed over when new committee members are appointed. Our contracts and our labor laws are not enforced. Our unelected leaders enjoy many trips, on our dues tab, and stay in fancy hotels. We have an unelected committee holding secret meetings to write a new constitution. They don’t even call it a constitution committee. They call it a “bylaws” committee. Corporations are governed by “bylaws”. Unions are governed by constitutions. This is a symbol of what is wrong.
All over SEIU hundreds of elected local union leaders have been replaced by Stern’s hand-picked appointees. It is like a coup in progress. Stern tells the world it all is to organize the unorganized and strengthen the labor movement. But the methods are destructive of the goals. Vast numbers of members now sneer at the idea that SEIU is even a real union. They think it is becoming a company union: Suck-ups and Employers for an Invisible Union (the new “SEIU”). How many more secret sweetheart deals has Andy Stern made with major employers, and which remain unexposed to the union membership and to the world? Has Stern made secret deals with the government also?
Long before we coined the word “union” workers held meetings and democratically decided how to act in unison toward our employers. That is where the word “union” comes from: unity, built on democracy of, by, and for workers. Somewhere along the way unions started to hire staff to help with the work. Somewhere along the way people started to think of the staff as the union, instead of the members. Power corrupts.
Some union staff and officers think they know what is best for workers. What is best for workers, all over the world, can only be decided democratically by workers. Democracy is not just a tyranny of majority rule, but requires respect for the right of the minority to freely advocate for the majority to change its mind. A democratic union does not fire staff who disagree with a ‘party line’, and does not purposely shut out a dissident minority from meetings, from contract negotiation teams, from conventions. A democratic union does not rig elections and conventions.
The bosses have long had the tactic of grooming labor bosses to do their bidding, to tie our hands behind our backs, to keep us thinking and acting like wage-slaves. We workers have, time and again, found the will and the ways to push them out of our way.

A democratic labor movement is still the future, the destiny of humanity.

In solidarity from San Diego,
Monty Reed Kroopkin,
SEIU shop steward
and organizer for S.M.A.R.T. – SEIU Member Activists for Reform Today http://www.reformseiu.org/

Posted by upchuck

9:11 PM, Jun 09, 2008

bothsides, your argument could also be made to justify repealing the income tax - i don't agree with the war spending, oil company subsidies, etc... and given your pov i'd guess you have problems with all of the education and health care spending that those darn dems want. well, what's the solution? we can vote for our gov reps, just like those who choose union jobs can vote for their leadership.

Posted by co_cookie

4:49 PM, Jun 10, 2008

I am a home care worker in Washington State. First let me say that no one is "taking my dues" for anything. Our political accountability fund is VOLUNTEER. I donate $10 a month, but it is well worth it. Our local is only 5 years old but we have been able to gain unprecedented benefits.

As to the point about SEIU being only for democrats, that is also untrue. I have been to the capitol to lobby the legislators, and we have supported legislators on both sides of the aisle. All that matters is whether they support our issues or not. I think this is a smart and effective way to help improve the healthcare system from the ground up.

Finally, about taxpayer money going to fund our contracts. The things we do today lay the foundation for the kind of care YOU will get in the future. Tell me, would you prefer the well qualified, stable worker with good benfits and job satisfaction, or the disgruntled minimum wage worker waiting to leave for a better paying job with better benefits. Give me the SEIU worker please.

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