CSUEU and SEIU, a dialogue

My union, CSUEU, is facing some important decisions about its future. One such decision involves our relationship with our international affiliate SEIU. Two candidates in the upcoming statewide leadership election put together a few questions and answers on this issue to start a dialogue that they felt had been inadequate to date. Two other leaders responded. The original authors answered one of the responders. I’ve posted the entire exchange below, starting with the original.

First post:

By CSEA Vice President Hylah Jacques, candidate for CSUEU President, and
SF State Chapter 305 President and Statewide Communication Committee Chair Russell Kilday-Hicks, candidate for CSUEU Vice President for Organizing

Affiliation with an international: What’s in it for us?
Most local labor unions are associated in some way with a larger group. As the labor movement evolved during the 20th century, it was a significant factor in building labor power to make critical gains and changes. Today it is still important, giving locals a powerful and united voice in important issues that affect us all: federal legislation and politics, protecting Medicare and social security, extending rights and protections to fellow workers in low-wage and under-represented sectors, working for social change and economic justice. Successes in these areas make life better for our members and help extend worker rights even to those not yet unionized.

Typically, a local is expected to participate in a variety of activities at the international’s level (in addition to the usual activities and duties of the local): providing volunteers, staffing, mailing lists, etc., participating in campaigns (political, organizing, etc.), participating in member-to-member activities, and taking on state governance responsibilities (serving on committees, participating in the International’s state organization, and supporting other locals around the state).

How much of our income goes to SEIU International?
Our dues (1 percent of salary) are quite low compared to other unions (2 to 2.5 percent). CSUEU’s annual income depends on number of employees and their salaries, around $6 million this year. Our net payment to SEIU International (around $1.25 million after their rebate) is about 20 percent of our income. Presuming the SEIU rebates continue in 2008 and 2009, CSUEU will have an additional $1.8 million of income over the two years. This would be added to the $6 million for each of those two years.

Some locals pay much more. SEIU Local 1000 (California’s state civil service workers), representing about ten times more employees than us and with a higher dues structure, dedicates a net (after rebate) of about 40 percent of its annual income to SEIU International.

What do we get for that?
On the surface we don’t get much. However, there are ways we benefit. For example, SEIU played a huge role statewide in the Alliance For a Better California, the union coalition that help defeat the governor’s attack agenda on unions (the November 2005 special election). Some California unions criticized us for not being more involved in that battle, but we were, through our affiliation with SEIU. SEIU also recognizes our potential influence (along with CFA, which is SEIU Local 1983) with over 400,000 students in the state university system. Because of this, for a relatively small union we have a big voice on the SEIU State Council.

Our history with SEIU has been rocky. In protest of what was deemed as poor behavior on the part of SEIU, the CSU Division of CSEA held back the per-cap payments to SEIU, eventually amounting to millions of dollars (this effort was led by former CSEA President Perry Kenny). The settlement to that disagreement provided the capital to incorporate (in other words, we did not pay it all back). Due to this shaky history with SEIU over the last 10 years, we are just now building a relationship with them.
In the past few years we have opted to maintain a fairly low profile, in part because we wanted to focus on building the CSUEU and accomplishing some important organizational changes with CSEA (incorporation and affiliation). SEIU International has not objected to our being “missing in action,” (and helped with our goals financially and by intervening with and mediating the CSEA and Local 1000 dispute) nor has CSUEU raised objections (until just recently) about a lack of services from SEIU. Services typically provided by an international include education, organizing, contract campaign assistance, and technical assistance (legal services, lobbying, etc.) We already contract with CSEA for much of our basic service needs, at cost or well below.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of maintaining the status quo?
There do not appear to be drawbacks to the current laissez faire relationship that has developed. While SEIU does occasionally pressure us to conform more, participate more, or pay them more, they have not pressed the issue. SEIU may prefer to keep a higher-education local in the fold and be willing to endure our idiosyncratic behavior. CFA, another SEIU affiliate, enjoys much the same relationship, although they pay more to the international and have donated additional resources (significant money and staff) to SEIU campaigns, such as the anti-76 campaign of 2005. It does not seem advisable to pick a fight where none exists, especially with an international.

Are we affiliated with other labor entities? If so, what have they done for us lately?
Since affiliations typically cost money and incur obligations and duties, we have not formed very many. However, we do have a longstanding relationship with CSEA, of which we are an affiliate. Formerly, we were one of four divisions of CSEA. Through a service agreement with them we enjoy business, HR, accounting, printing, legal, lobbying, office space, and other resources. This affiliation gives us complete control over our resources while providing the above services at or below cost.

Didn’t SEIU pull out of AFL-CIO in July 2005?
This is another reason why CSUEU has opted to maintain a fairly low profile with SEIU. Like many locals, we found ourselves suddenly unaffiliated with AFL-CIO when SEIU decided to pull out. This created two immediate problems: 1) many locals would lose their longstanding and enduring relationships with AFL’s district labor councils, to which they paid dues to belong as a way to maintain regional union strength across many unions; and 2) locals like us lost what is called “Article 20” protection, that is, the International’s promise that it will protect and defend any of its locals that another union attempts to “raid,” or take over. Such campaigns can cost millions of dollars and effectively end all other goals the local might have. Therefore, many locals felt extremely vulnerable. AFL-CIO and SEIU quickly reached an agreement on both of these issues, and recently extended that agreement through 2008. SEIU locals may continue to participate in AFL councils; and the two have agreed that they will not “raid” any of the other’s locals. Since these are the two largest internationals (AFL-CIO with 13 million members, and SEIU with 1.9 million), it is unlikely that a smaller international would try to “raid” a local. It would not be in their economic interest to do so. We are not so large or rich a target to invite a “raid,” so long as we are affiliated with an international.

Why did SEIU leave AFL-CIO and start “Change to Win” (CTW)?
Andy Stern, president of SEIU International, decided to start a new coalition, with other internationals, that is focused on organizing in order to build union strength by sectors. With him from the AFL-CIO have gone the Carpenters, United Food and Commercial Workers, LIUNA, the Teamsters, UNITE HERE, and the United Farm Workers. Stern was highly critical of AFL-CIO president John Sweeney for not doing enough around organizing and believed the loss of union density in the United States was largely due to AFL’s emphasis on electoral politics.

Observers have estimated a five-year window for Andy Stern to get the new coalition off the ground, or fail. SEIU locals may end up back in AFL-CIO after all, if the Change to Win coalition fails between now and 2010. Or, locals may find themselves in a successful new coalition. Only time will tell, and the situation should continue to be monitored, as it has been since July 2005, with an eye to our best interests.

What would happen if we decided to leave SEIU?
Proposals to disaffiliate with SEIU are not new. Warnings in the past that we will be swallowed up by the “purple machine” have not materialized. We have shown that we are in control of our relationship with SEIU. We can choose to take their support or not and use it as we see fit.

In a disaffiliation scenario, it’s likely that SEIU would expend whatever resources it would take to defeat such a move. Even though our contribution to SEIU is small compared to larger locals, the international has demonstrated that it will go to the mat if need be. Even if we were to prevail in such a fight, our resources, our activists, and our membership would be depleted from this “total war” and it would take us a few years to regroup. During that time we would be highly vulnerable and would likely join a new international for protection against being taken over. The terms of such an affiliation would likely not be anywhere near what we have now; we would not have the freedom we now enjoy to determine our level of involvement with programs and campaigns, without consequences, and failure to meet our half of an agreement with a new international could result in being taken into trusteeship by the new international. It would be difficult for us to emerge from trusteeship, since we have no real assets besides dues collection. We might well find our goals coming in second behind those of our new international.

This system of paying “protection money” to a big International doesn’t seem fair. We should be able to spend our members’ money as we see fit.
Such a sentiment is understandable, particularly if the members of a local have little interest in participating with the rest of labor or advancing the cause of social and economic justice. If a local’s members are not interested in dedicating a portion of their resources to federal and international campaigns that strengthen the labor movement, it may find itself without friends at some critical juncture in its future. The system may or may not be fair, but opting out of it is not realistic. It would be like opting out of capitalism and returning to hunting and gathering because the current economic system doesn’t seem fair. Nor can one opt out of the web that joins many thousands of labor groups together without losing the strength that that inter-relationship affords us all.


First response:

A Measured Response

Association does not equal assimilation. Many people participate in groups like the Democratic Party or Move On to advance a progressive agenda. Or they participate in other groups like the Green Party or Amnesty International or just get involved in community activities. CSEA was one of those influential groups working for a better working life for state workers and people joined us for the same reason. But now, we have to look to SEIU to define our agenda. We no longer lead, we follow. Our brothers and sisters in “SEIU 1000” no longer see themselves as an independent union, simply another local of the fastest bloating union in America. Is this our future?

CSEA’s political action arm was called CSEAPAC – a powerful force on the state scene. It has been dismantled so that SEIU could gain our resources for its own political fights. What do state employees have to gain by cozying up to Wal-Mart? Or cutting deals with nursing homes to bypass regulation? Where are their initiatives for us, like an improved pension system or accountability for university executives? SEIU is about the next big headline and the next big organizing project – not the employees left behind in old jurisdictions paying the bills.

Should we apologize for charging our members too little? Should we apologize for returning too much value to them in terms of representation? We have not been following the SEIU model – high dues and low service – and we should be proud of that. SEIU has almost bankrupted their locals with their per capita and “unity fund.” They create a dependency on rebates in their locals to further their internal program – domination. Get out of line, lose your rebate. Along with the threat of trusteeship, this is how SEIU brings locals into line, putting their staff in control and their agenda in place.

Recently, we asked SEIU to meet its obligations under our affiliation agreement to return at least $120,000 per year in back organizing rebates. We also asked for assistance in organizing foundation and auxiliary workers. SEIU representatives flatly told us that we charge too little and give too much. They ordered us to reduce services to existing members and put the funds at SEIU’s direction. If we didn’t, they threatened to give our jurisdiction to some other SEIU local.

Only SEIU could have convinced us that we are a small union when we are one of the biggest! CSEA was a leader in state employee associations and CSUEU covers the largest higher education system in the world. SEIU has nothing like us in their other jurisdictions. It is laughable to say that we have a “big voice” on their SEIU State Council when SEIU removed us from their International Board – in violation of our affiliation agreement. We were demoted – which is a better fate than many of their locals which have been merged and eliminated.

The question that was supposed to be answered here was “What do we get for that?” For almost $2 million per year, we are given the right to the Color Purple. We get no staffing, no training, no assistance. When we ask, we are told to contribute more. Do we get services at the $3 million level? $5 million? Or are we just fueling the greed of Andy Stern and his minions for more of our dollars? CSUEU won agency fees through decades of service to state university employees – without SEIU help. Now, we face cut-backs and layoffs in staffing and program to meet our per capita set in Washington. We are not meeting our responsibility to our members when we let SEIU take their funds across the country to finance the agenda of one man.

CSEA withheld funds because SEIU violated our affiliation agreement. The plain facts are that SEIU signed a contract promising rebates, staff, training, executive positions. They failed to fulfill their side of the bargain and under the terms of that agreement, we have the right to leave. The CSEA Board of Directors began that process, only to have SEIU interfere in our internal politics to pull the plug. No one doubts that SEIU is behind the purple-shirted bullies in Civil Service Division who intimidate their opponents and rig elections. If it were not for the CDU/SEIU attack on the integrity of CSEA, we would be millions of dollars richer and thousands of members stronger today. SEIU’s response to CSEA’s disaffiliation action was to break up CSEA. We now have splintered pieces called affiliates where we once had a strong association called CSEA. SEIU uses the same sort of high-handed intervention and domination that one thinks of when we see Iraq. SEIU wants puppets, not partners, and they work with their “allies” on the inside to accomplish their goal.

“Missing in action?” Only someone who has spent the past two years on the sidelines could say we are “missing in action.” Our members and leaders have been fighting for a new contract and protecting our pensions and winning our wage increases. Our members and leaders have been working on every CSU campus to rein in bad management and improve working conditions. From that perspective, it is SEIU who is “missing in action.”

See, that’s SEIU’s trick – making us feel small because we aren’t doing enough for them. They define the relationship as “What have you done for me lately?” They don’t care about our battles, only theirs. Sacramento and Long Beach are a long way from Washington, D.C. When was the last time that Andy Stern gave our members the time he likes to give to his corporate “partners?” When we shop at Wal-Mart, should we be proud that “our” SEIU President is best buddies with the most anti-union employer on the face of the earth?

We have a high profile in the CSU and the State of California. That is where our members work and their families live. We have a high profile on college campuses and at trustee meetings – where we know who is the boss and who is the union! We don’t need SEIU trying to make us feel small so that $2 million for purple t-shirts makes us feel big. Maybe some CSUEU candidates need that sort of approval from SEIU, but the rest of us just need it from our members.

When it comes down to it, the argument is fear . Don’t fight the international – they are big and we are small. Maybe they kick us around a little, bruise our egos (and our bank accounts) but they really love us, don’t they? What would we be without them?

Grow up, folks. We don’t have to be afraid to be on our own. We were serving the state employees of California long before SEIU even showed up in California. The drawbacks of the status quo are we lose money, independence, and pride. We put the interests of a dictatorial regime in Washington above the interests of our own members. We didn’t inherit this union of ours, we built it!

We are CSEA, not related to it! SEIU wants us to leave CSEA so that they can bring us closer to them. We have our own “business, HR, accounting, printing, legal, lobbying, office space, and other resources” so why do we need them? SEIU is not involved with any of the basic operations of our union, but they collect millions of dollars while CSEA provides the services. Nice work if you can get it!

When Andy Stern decided to pull out of the AFL-CIO, there was no vote of SEIU members. Even though we risked all of the dangers listed by the authors above, no one asked us if we wanted to leave. They decide, we obey – that is the lesson here. We lack any democratic voice within SEIU and their leaders do not care.

Is this the kind of leadership some candidates offer? Will they decide to join the “unity fund” and let the members know later? Will they sign “resource agreements” that bind us to SEIU and tell us they know better what we really need? Democracy is what made CSEA. Democracy is what makes CSUEU a moral force in the CSU. If we are just another “boss” taking the dollars and giving the orders, why should CSU employees bother to listen to us?

John Sweeney hand-picked Andy Stern to serve as SEIU President when he left for the AFL-CIO. Stern repaid him by breaking up the largest and oldest union federation in the U.S. The bottom line is that Stern isn’t willing to let anyone else lead except himself. He wasn’t able to win an election in the AFL-CIO, so he took his marbles and went home. Stern is willing to gamble with our money and members to see if he can be king. And there is something hypocritical in SEIU/Stern breaking their affiliation agreement and per capita to the AFL-CIO but telling us we can’t do the same!

Fear, fear, fear! This is what to expect from people who were not around for the affiliation. We didn’t join from fear, we joined for partnership. We joined for what our two unions could do together. Now, we have to stay despite the loss of money, the breach of contract, because we face “total war.”

SEIU is incapable of taking our jurisdiction away from us. Our right to represent state university employees is decided by state university employees, not labor bosses in Washington. We earn the right to be their union by serving them, not SEIU. We are more vulnerable to losing our jurisdiction when we starve campus staff of services while increasing their dues.

SEIU has lost many, many locals because of their high-handed approach. Their sweetheart contracts and perpetual organizing leave their members angry and ready for decertification. Stern is like the captain of the Titanic trying to get people out of the lifeboats and back on the ship because “it’s so big!”

Our strength is our local leaders and our members. To fight “total war” SEIU would need to recruit its own leaders on the campuses. They would have to find one out of every three CSU employees willing to sign cards for SEIU to hold an election and then get more than one out of every two CSU employees to vote for them as representative. They would have to do this while facing interference from our own hundreds of activists, officers and stewards and thousands of members, all willing to expose SEIU for the money-grubbers they are. Who is the underdog here?

If we just give up because of some doomsday scenario invented by short-timers, then what are we saying about the union we built?

“This system of paying ‘protection money’ to a big International doesn’t seem fair. We should be able to spend our members’ money as we see fit.”

So, opponents of SEIU are hunter-gatherers who are too selfish to help others? Does SEIU have a monopoly on social and economic justice? When it comes down to it, there are only two real arguments for SEIU – “We are better than you and you should be afraid of us!”

We, the members and leaders of CSUEU, are fighters for justice and better working conditions. We, the members and leaders of CSUEU, believe that strong, democratic unions are the source of labor strength. We, the members and leaders of CSUEU, will build our union and workplace with our own efforts and our own resources.

We aren’t weak, small and afraid and we don’t need leaders who are. Thank you, candidates, for letting us know how you really feel about CSUEU and SEIU.

In Solidarity,

Jay Jimenez
President, Chapter 317


Second response:

By CSUEU President Pat Gantt (posted to his blog: http://csueu4u.typepad.com/my_weblog/ )

There have been a couple of exchanges related to SEIU recently and I thought it wise to add my perspective on the issue.

The Present
The recent proposal from SEIU for a “resource agreement” certainly caused a lot of controversy. There was never any intent or action to sign or approve any document without the board approval. In fact, SEIU was told that anything would have to be taken back to the board and cautioned on the probable reaction of the board to their proposal.
Their proposal was a total response to all of our grant requests and fell shorts of the requested dollars.

My opinion is that SEIU could have done better in their response and failed to listen to myself and the other officers. I have spent some time in trying to figure out the SEIU structure and processes. It is not easy and it is a complex structure. I have tried to see where and how the CSUEU fit in to the overall structure etc. The fact that we work in a higher education setting has a unique quality about it and I observed how CFA interacted with SEIU at the state and national level.
In working with CFA, we were successful in moving some of our issues up the statewide priority list as all the SEIU locals understood the importance of CSU funding and access helped their member’s families.

The CSUEU inherited the affiliation agreement from CSEA when we incorporated in 2005. That original agreement is was fully transferable at that time under its terms. Initially, SEIU expressed an interest in developing a new agreement. I verbally declined and responded that it was too soon and reminded them the agreement was fully transferable and any changes require mutual consent. Given the past CSEA dispute and the fact we had never had a direct relationship with SEIU both parties needed to develop a mutual benefit relationship. In my mind, we are not there yet and no one should touch that affiliation agreement anytime soon, if ever.

In the summer of 2000, the CSU Division Council voted to suspend the per cap payments to SEIU because of a lack of representation at the May 2000 convention. SEIU did not insure that the CSU Division got the pro rata number of delegates it was entitled to as in the past. I was the second to the motion that was made by Kathryn Plunkett. The decision to withhold the per caps also included that we not spend them they be placed in an escrow account as protection if we went to arbitration and lost the issue. If arbitrated and lost, we would have to pay all the per caps back. After our motion CSEA President Perry Kenny decided to also withhold the Civil Service per caps, but for slightly different reasons. We, the CSU Division Council, settled the issue in 2004 because CSEA would not allow us to incorporate with out it the settlement, and we needed the extra funds to incorporate. We were able to keep about $3 million of the $6 million we held back.

The split between the SEIU and the AFL-CIO came as SEIU along with
LIUNA, Teamsters, Carpenters, UFW, UFCW and Unite-Here formed the Change to Win (CTW) structure. The one main difference in the split seemed that the CTW unions wanted to spend more resources on mobilizing members and grassroots politics and the AFL-CIO wanted to keep the traditional system of candidate support and not move faster to a grassroots effort.

The connection to the AFL-CIO thru SEIU to protect jurisdiction seems to be somewhat intact. The jurisdiction protection is why CSEA affiliated in the first place and the language to defend the jurisdiction is in the agreement. The Central Labor Council (The AFL-CIO political structure) relationship with the AFL-CIO is still intact as all SEIU locals in California are welcome in the councils due to a letter of understanding and mutual interest to work together on labor issues.

In the CSUEU, the decision to belong to Central Labor Councils was left up to the individual chapters as the CSU Division did not have extra funds to cover this expense. There are three chapters that pay per caps to a Central Labor Council. The current political structure has most unions working in a coalition structure on many issues either outside or in addition to that of Labor Councils. The CSUEU needs to look at every opportunity to work with other unions in any structure and decide what resources it is willing to commit to the effort.

The Future
The ongoing relationship with SEIU is still an open question. There is no swift and easy disaffiliation method. The affiliation agreement calls for a dispute resolution process. If not resolved, it can then go to arbitration and if an arbitrator finds that SEIU has violated the agreement and SEIU cannot or will not correct the violation, CSUEU can then take a vote of disaffiliation. So far, since the settlement agreement SEIU has not violated the affiliation agreement. The CSUEU is not Local 1000. Local 1000 changed their affiliation agreement after they incorporated. We incorporated as the California State University Employees Union (CSUEU) and have our autonomy. We work within the CSEA structure and with other unions to address issues of concern and mutual interest for our members. The CSUEU must have a role in the bigger labor movement and we need to decide what that role is and overall relationship with SEIU on our own terms.
This cannot happen in one meeting but must be part of an ongoing discussion of our goals, resources and planning.


Reply to Jay Jiminez by Russell
Reply to Jay’s response to Russell and Hylah’s “CSUEU and SEIU” statement
By Russell Kilday-Hicks

Wow Jay, it was really nice of us to provide you the ammunition you could use to assassinate us. The problem for us was we didn’t know there were character assassins waiting in the wings. The purpose of the piece was to engage a debate; one that our union needs to face because we have some important decisions to make and the discussion so far has not been adequate. Instead of being praised for our efforts we get in return exaggerated claims of what we meant and the fallacious argument called “straw man,” where the attacker conveniently creates a fake person (in this case, two persons) that is easily knocked to the ground. I’m reminded of a Paul Simon lyric, “All lies in jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest” (The Boxer).

First I want to thank you for engaging the debate. Like I said, this is what our union needs. Now I would like to respectfully ask that from here on it be a debate over the very real issues we are facing so that we can make informed decisions about our future. Let’s make sure we are talking to each other and not at each other. Really listening always carries with it the possibility that you might be changed by what you hear. And I would challenge us all to keep that in mind as we proceed.

Second, we are all in the room because we care. Trying to characterize some as “more caring” or righteous than others is a bullying tactic that we should watch out for. We are not Local 1000 and I hope to god we never become them. We all volunteer our time to help our cause and that should never be disrespected.

Third, you don’t necessarily have to have a stronger argument to win a debate; sometimes you just have to place the seed of doubt. Claiming that the statewide leaders were about to sign a secret deal with SEIU was just such a tactic. Pat states on his website: “There was never any intent or action to sign or approve any document without the board approval.” I even got an alarmed call from an LRR at the time and I said that I would look into it but I don’t think it’s possible for them to sign an agreement the board hasn’t approved. My instincts were correct. Did a retraction go out to clear this up? (Maybe I missed that e-mail when I was in Europe.) Further, I heard it said that many if not all of the issues raised on the phone conference with SEIU representative Greg Pullman were a rehash of what the board brought up in their meetings with Pullman. Does that sound like a secret coup about to happen? Clearly, someone here is not listening.

It’s obvious from your “measured” response that you think little of Andy Stern and his leadership of SEIU. Did it occur to you that we might be in agreement on this? You seem to be advocating leaving SEIU because of this distrust of Stern. What is the justification given? Because Stern took over other locals? He did, but he can’t do that to us, at least not unilaterally. Is it because Stern alone seems to be setting the agenda? Maybe he has for other unions, but he can’t do that to us — unless we let him. No one I ever spoke to in our union has advocated such a thing. But the seed of doubt has been planted …

You write that “association does not imply assimilation,” and neither do we. We do not have to “look to SEIU to define our agenda” and we certainly haven’t been, accomplishing quite a lot in our first few years of incorporation, like you said, without much help from SEIU (except the finances to incorporate in the first place, even if it was forced out of them). For example, the SFSU Foundation has been a thorn in my side on my campus since I’ve been involved in our union, with their non-union workforce right under our noses. I learned of a bargaining unit employee who was fired from his temporary job and re-hired by the foundation doing essentially the same work but without union protections and benefits. We tried filing a ULP but that failed. Pullman said during the phone conference that it doesn’t make sense for us to not organize these workers. Is this SEIU setting the agenda? Considering our affiliation agreement for a moment, if we state we aren’t interested in these workers we give up jurisdiction because our agreement gives us rights to state employees only, but these workers are technically private. (I agree it would be outrageous for SEIU organize them, but do you honestly believe they would even try? I don’t.) I believe that an “external” campaign, if done correctly will have a positive affect on our “internal” numbers as well (and Pullman states in the 5/25/07 memo to us that the money is “for you to use to increase your membership internally” as well as to organize the foundation workers). Training and empowering activists is a good thing, no matter what their focus.

We need to get beyond the constraints of a service model and open up our chapters to the wider world, not just the foundations but the union movement, not even just the union movement but the civil rights movement for all workers. What’s stopping us from using our resources, thrown back at us from SEIU, to accomplish this? Is it their attitude of arrogance towards us, or maybe it’s our attitude of arrogance towards them?

You refer to the affiliation agreement with SEIU and Article 10.4, the “up to” $10,000 a month for organizing. It says, “SEIU shall negotiate annually” with us. To do that you have to meet. To do that you have to have a relationship with them. Yet when our executive officers did just that they were attacked. As communication chair I agree the process needs to be communicated better, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, let’s build a better union together. Article 11 also promises resources that SEIU has never delivered on. But to get them you need to have a relationship. Aren’t we putting the cart before the horse?

Should we be getting more from SEIU? Absolutely! But isn’t it also naive to think that there will be no strings? After all, they are SEIU (under Stern). But part of the problem here is what is called “self-fulfilling prophesy” where you say SEIU is undemocratic (and no doubt they have been) because we don’t have national representation, yet we were not “members in good standing” to be eligible for that because we were holding back our per-cap payments. Perry Kenny made sure we only heard about SEIU what he wanted us to hear, and he dragged us into his war with Civil Service. He made sure we had no relationship with SEIU, and now you seem to be advocating continuing the same thing. Will we get SEIU national representation in the near future? Maybe that depends on the relationship we create with them. Do you really care or is it far more important to make political points? And I’m confused over which policy is coming out of fear: the idea that we have to disaffiliate because of what they may do to us or the idea that we have to stay with them because of what they may do to us. Let’s do what we need to do and let the chips fall where they may.

The bottom line: SEIU is not Andy Stern. It is much more than that. Our piece was not a defense of Stern. Read it again. It was a little background and if anything an argument for acting with our eyes open. You claim some leaders are frozen in fear of what Andy Stern will do to us. But that is just nonsense. If it makes sense for us to leave SEIU, then tally ho! I just want our motives and goals to be clear and attainable, and I believe that our mission is much larger than decent raises and benefits for our represented employees (as important as they are) because we will never get them in isolation without a strong civil rights/union movement. If the only alternative to Stern is withdrawing from the social justice movement then, and I think you would agree Jay, count me out. If there are better alternatives to staying and working within SEIU, then count me in. I haven’t heard what they might be just yet but my ears are open. Do we have the resources to disaffiliate? Do we know where we are going afterward? Where will it lead?

As for Stern, hatred can be just as destructive an emotion as fear. Actually, sometimes you can find hatred’s roots in fear. (Notice I didn’t say that your anger is rooted in fear. Your distrust of Stern is well justified, but decisions made out of anger are rarely good ones). Let’s work together to turn our passion in a positive direction, whatever path that might be.

CSEA is changing; it can never be what it was. While it’s true that CSUEU may not be a good fit for SEIU we do need to take stock of where we are right now. (SEIU is playing marriage counselor to stop the “war of the roses” waged within CSEA for far too long; we have to give them some credit for that. If they fail, GC will be a continuation of the strife -– bring your boxing gloves. If they succeed, it may be the most harmonious GC we’ve seen in many yeas.)

We all distrust Stern and SEIU, but for the sake of our union, please don’t “disregard the rest.” Vilifying Stern will not help us make clear choices. If we are strong enough, maybe we can get SEIU to play on our terms. Attacking each other will certainly prevent us from having the strength to pull that off. We need all our talents pulling together, and like Pat said, that’s what a union is.

There is a lot more to discuss. Let’s get started.

Thanks brother Jay. Talk to you soon.


Response to Jay from Hylah

Dear J –

Loved the high dudgeon, bro. Like any unionista worth her salt, I have to admire the passion. But I’m not sucked in. I’m onto facts, and you laid out several about SEIU that I would not disagree with. I could probably add a few originals of my own. (And BTW, all unionistas should read Wypijewski on SEIU.) Yes, it is, as they say, a “dangerous neighborhood,” as you have so breathlessly observed of late. And welcome to it.

The last I heard from you about SEIU was almost two years ago to the day, when you asked me over lunch at CSU-LA what we, CSUEU, were doing about the SEIU split from AFL-CIO and our Article 20 protection going out the window. “We’re in a ‘wait and see’ mode,” I said, “and if it gets choppy we’ll bail.” I was skeptical that SEIU could pull it off, and so were you. Neither of us liked being yanked from AFL-CIO, with whom we would have preferred having the international link, despite the bushel of cold hard facts that could be laid out against AFL too.

Well, two years later I see we remain skeptical. But our respective views on how to position ourselves in the matter seem to have diverged. First I believe we need to acknowledge what has changed, and any benefit that has accrued from our relationship, such as it is, with SEIU.

We actually struck a deal with SEIU and recovered $3 million of the six we owed, legitimately, in back per caps we had not paid for years. (Yes, we got sucked into CSEA prez Perry Kenny’s pissing match years ago, I know you’ll recall.) This deal made it possible for us to incorporate and move from division to affiliate status and gain control over our resources. Oh yeah. Before you start going all gooey about the good old days when we were a division of CSEA? I want to warn you that this mesmerizing highwire of historical revisionism, less than 24 months out of CSEA hell, is just not going to fly.

The good ole days…

We were for many years, the poor, red-headed stepchildren of CSEA, picking Granny’s apron pocket (the Retirees) at every opportunity, extending the empty porridge bowl to Kenny, et al., while deftly grabbing for the gold watch. We had to. We had no resources to speak of, and the little we had was all controlled by CSEA. We lived by our wits to even minimally meet our goals, and we tried to stay out of the crossfire between the civil service division and the CSEA goon squad (little better than Pinkerton’s hunting down miners if you read any of the 2003 court papers, which is why courts to this day perceive CSEA as coming in with unclean hands, no matter who has done what to whom since 2003). And while you could hardly point to the civil service division (Local 1000 today) as well scrubbed heroes, neither could you blame them for digging their way out of the mineshaft of doom via a reform movement. (Sadly, they proved, post-GC 2003, they could descry but not lead.)

Lately, people in CSUEU and CSEA leadership (myself included) have taken the bold decision to get to know these cranky neighbors of ours, the so-called big dogs of SEIU. They do bite, but they will give you ample warning first. (Usually.) I recommend descending from your perch on the sunporch. The neighborhood may indeed be dangerous –- and I’ve got the bite marks to prove it -– but that’s nothing compared to Keith “Atilla” Richman cresting the horizon again.

Yes, he is back, for another attack on our pensions. Apparently we are fresh out of defenseless Orange Counties to throw in his path because he is not slowing down, and he’s got the crazy notion that CalPERS will be easy to pick off. I wonder what might have given him that impression ….

I don’t know about you, Jay, but 50 years hence when our union brethren look back on what we did at this moment, I don’t want them to anguish that we got distracted, that we turned inward, lost our courage for the real fight, locked our door against the dangers of the neighborhood and the world and picked a false fight inside the house of labor just because someone spat in our oatmeal two years ago.

Oh yeah? What about all that cash of ours SEIU is raking in, that we don’t get anything back for?

Think of it as our tithe, if you will, which goes to organizing the working poor, organizing immigrants, and building from the ground up. That’s SEIU’s plan, and who knows if they can pull it off, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do know people succeed all the time not because they have haloes but because they take chances. SEIU has not asked us to help them organize janitors in Houston, or wear purple, or be any different than we are. Compared to what others give to this project, in time, labor, staff, and cash, it is not much.

SEIU contributed tens of millions of dollars to the California campaign against Propositions 75 and 76 in November 2005 -– Richman’s first concerted attack. If you like, you can imagine some of our realm’s coin made it into those coffers. Frankly, I did not see many of my CSUEU brethren on the front lines in 2005. In sleepy, Republican SLO, we had a huge rally –- teachers, firefighters, and nurses -– and the number of people from Chapter 316 who showed up you could literally count on one hand.

This is learned behavior, one that I would like to see us change. Back in the “good ole days” when we were the red-headed stepchildren, we could skip school with impugnity, since we weren’t expected to show up anyway. But unions -– activists and true believers -– do show up.

Clicking a canned letter at move-on-dot-org might make us feel like we did a good thing, and it is something, but it is not enough. We all need to do more, especially around our pensions and health care. We cannot afford to assume others will fight for us, others will raise the mega-cash through special assessments (“hey –- we po”) others will go to the rally, let alone organize it. So, think of that per-caps money as the price of that ticket to go home at 5 p.m. rather than freeze your patootie at a rally. It’s the price of keeping your door locked and maintaining your isolationist perch in a dangerous neighborhood full of thieving pirate big labor. It’s the price of sloth, which has no place, at this moment in any union’s history.

The SEIU people I know have all the warts you so passionately describe. And that’s not idle speculation –- I’ve seen the bad and the ugly. Still, I’ve spent the last two years combing the neighborhood for some scrap of common ground where we could stand and face a common enemy together, warts and all. Like the family you do not “choose,” they are our brothers.

You want to pick a fight with SEIU? I suggest you wait ’til we deal with Richman.

Now, let’s compare SEIU with AFL-CIO, the other darling of your diatribe. I won’t even bring up the AFL’s support of the Vietnam war. I’ll stay with recent history, like within the last year. It’s bad enough the Democratic leadership sold us short with the November ’06 bond measures that they got in bed with the governator to promote. (Rather reminiscent of that tawdry 1972 spectacle, of George Meany tucking Richard Nixon in, which got Meany nothing for his trouble. But I digress.)

These bonds do major damage to the state general fund, for 30 years (the life of a bond), which threatens our jobs and raises over that whole span of time. But AFL supported the bonds, because it meant short-term jobs for them. Never mind us in higher education, or in civil service, facing a governor bent on starving the beast to justify contracting out, never mind hungry CalWorks kids, the homeless, rehab programs, mental health services, or any health and human services -– we all depend on the general fund. The SEIU State Council was the only labor entity, to my knowledge, that opposed those bond measures. Thirty years is a long time to fight with hungry first-graders and the homeless over the budget dust left on the floor.

It’s not a perfect world, nor even “a bit more perfect” union. We all have our warts, scars, our failures to measure up, to live the utopian ideal. Even the big grand-daddy who spawned us all, the International Workingman’s Association, had a notoriously tough time getting along, but they managed to shut down continental Europe on a regular basis despite their differences. If you want the good ole days, go there. The underside of labor has not changed much, sad but true. The main difference is, people are not (here in sunny California, anyway) getting shot for joining a picket line. Or shot for not showing up.

Bottom line: no yellow brick road. And no Mr. Rogers either. But welcome to the neighborhood anyhow — it belongs to us all. I see two choices: we could try walking off the muddy field and going our isolationist way (with no guarantee of making it very far), or we could stay in the game and see how far up the field we can advance those principles of union democracy and labor power that many of us in CSUEU cherish. I’ll take the latter: we are the red-headed underdogs, after all -– we know how to do this.

See you soon –-



3 Responses to “CSUEU and SEIU, a dialogue”

  1. Just Curious Says:

    Someone named Kevin Glasson is identified as chair of the CSUEU Communications Committee on the union’s web site (http://www.csueu.org/Home/Committees/Communication/tabid/126/Default.aspx). Are you chair of some other statewide communications committee? Or is the Committee’s web page wrong?

  2. russellkildayhicks Says:

    The website is incorrect. Kevin is on the committee and I consider him my vice chair.

  3. Pat Gantt Says:

    The election is over but the debate should continue. SEIU is “big” labor and every local tries to find its place in the movement. It takes considerable time and energy to cover all the bases of a union in our changing world. The shifting politics and costs of the state and national election sap resources from unions big and small. Those precious resources start to move far way from the work place where the dues are generated and from the contract that governs the jobs of the salaries that produce the dues.
    Leadership is about look at the problems and solving them to move forward and work together. There will always be some who really will not debate and will use fear to sabotage change. They may even just want the good old days of an association with social events and stories about the good old days.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: