AFL-CIO Condemns SEIU Raids on UNITE HERE

Fred Ross Jr with ILWU leader Jimmy Herman and HERE organizer Tho Do at Neighbor to Neighbor coffee protest in the 1980s

Fred Ross Jr with ILWU leader Jimmy Herman and HERE organizer Tho Do at Neighbor to Neighbor coffee protest in the 1980s

One day after 15 international union leaders vowed to provide “material and moral” support to UNITE HERE’s defense against SEIU raids, the AFL-CIO sent a letter to the UNITE HERE convention condemning “all raiding of organized workers by any union.” This letter represents a dramatic shift in position for the labor federation, which previously had been advised by its general counsel to stay out of the fight between SEIU and UNITE HERE. Adding to building momentum against SEIU’s conduct were scathing words from Operating and Engineers President Vincent J. Giblin, who described SEIU President Andy Stern as the “Darth Vader of the labor movement” and who vowed to provide “every resource” of his union, including strike benefits, to help UNITE HERE in its struggle. It was also revealed on the Convention’s second day that former UNITE HERE President and now SEIU Executive Vice-President Bruce Raynor had shifted $23 million in cash from UNITE HERE to his new union prior to his departure; this prompted UNITE HERE’s Jim Dupont to lead the crowd in a roaring chant “They say arbitrate, we say incarcerate.”In case anyone still doubted which side organized labor is on in the battle between SEIU and UNITE HERE, the AFL-CIO has joined the now overwhelming number of groups backing the latter. In addition to the international Presidents, Labor Councils across the country have passed formal resolutions attacking SEIU’s raids, even in cities like Los Angeles where SEIU has strength and organized heavily against the resolution.

Its quite clear that there is deep respect and affection between UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm and the nation’s other union leaders. Andy Stern, to put it politely, is viewed much less sympathetically.

Giblin’s Vow

After a rousing speech by legendary gay rights activist Cleve Jones, Operating and Engineers President Vincent Giblin issued the harshest attacks yet heard at the convention regarding the Stern-Raynor agenda. Giblin never identified either by name, but it was clear to all who he was speaking about when he described both as “corporate raiders” and “labor leader pretenders.”

In response to the duo’s continued call to resolve their dispute with UNITE HERE via binding arbitration, Giblin said he “fell out of his chair” when he heard “that ridiculous statement for arbitration.” He vowed that the Operating Engineers would “not rest until we rid these two (Raynor and Stern) from the labor movement.

The fact that an international union president would publicly issue such harsh personal attacks on another union leader should give one pause, particularly in light of similar disparaging comments made about Stern by the leaders of AFSCME and the Laborers the preceding day. Regardless of what one thinks of these leaders or the merits of their charges, it is clear that John Wilhelm is widely trusted by his fellow leaders – while Andy Stern is not.

And if you are in the business of building a labor movement, as SEIU claims to be, alienating your colleagues is not a winning strategy.

UNITE HERE Moves Forward

Much of the Convention’s second day was spent hearing how workers in the gaming, food service, and hotel industries were moving forward on their agendas. Jackie White, a Hyatt Hotel worker in Indianapolis, discussed how maids had to do up to 28 rooms a day for as little as $7.25 per hour – this is double the rooms and half the pay of unionized maids in Chicago.

Indianapolis is the nation’s largest city without unionized hotels, and UNITE HERE is working hard to change this.

D. Taylor, head of UNITE HERE’s gaming division, described an ambitious agenda for expansion both in currently unionized cities and in new states. Taylor noted that a nationwide campaign against the Penn-National gaming company is in the works, which would involved 10,000 workers in over five states (until this convention I had no idea that states like Ohio have gaming, and that it is very pervasive in Illinois, Pennsylvania).

Texas UNITE HERE Director Willie Gonzalez described his ambitious plans for his hard to organize state, one in which SEIU’s once promising efforts in Houston have seemed to have been stymied (even the Labor Council covering Houston backed a resolution condemning SEIU’s raids). Gonzalez told me that “in Texas you really have to build an active membership base,” and the onetime UNITE member said he stayed with UNITE HERE because “that’s what the members wanted.”

SEIU Denies Raids are Occurring

I spoke with Noel Beasley, an Executive Vice-President of Workers United and the Manager of the Chicago-Midwest Joint Board about the statement of the 15 union heads condemning the raids. Beasley said their position was “not particularly surprising,” as they urged an amicable settlement and SEIU is not involved with any raids.

According to Beasley, “we have the right to organize in the gaming, hotel and food service jurisdictions.” He said that’s what he and his colleagues have been doing for the past five years, and they intended to continue. He also claimed that 50% of the workers under his jurisdiction chose to leave UNITE HERE for SEIU; sorting out the numbers is difficult, but Beasley insists that if workers were happy with UNITE HERE, they would not have voted to leave (the nature of these “votes” remains one of the outstanding disputes).

Under Beasley’s reasoning, those organizing truckers for the Teamsters could then leave for the United Food and Commercial Workers and then have the “right” to organize truckers for their new union. No wonder nearly all of the major labor unions are so alarmed at SEIU’s jurisdictional analysis; as Terrence O’Sullivan said yesterday, if SEIU can begin competing in UNITE HERE jurisdictions, then there is nothing to stop it from going after other unions, ensuring ongoing inter-union fights.

Fred Ross and Tho Do

The San Francisco Bay Area was well represented yesterday, as Fred Ross Jr. cited his earlier Beyond Chron story explaining why he left SEIU after ten years to help UNITE HERE. The normally reserved Ross gave a fiery speech that repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet; it will not prove popular with his former SEIU colleagues.

Tho Do, organizing director for UNITE HERE Local 2, spearheaded the presentation on the union’s hotel organizing campaigns. Tho Do was later elected to a position with the international union, an inspiring achievement for an activist who got her start, and has spent her entire career, working in San Francisco’s Uptown Tenderloin district.

The Convention’s final day is expected to feature a speech from UFCW President Joe Hansen. After all the speeches, delegates will head to the Congress Hotel in a show of solidarity with the workers on strike for over six years.

Put aside for a moment that the letter overlooks the $500,000 Raynor spent on robocalls, mailing and harassment against UNITE HERE members, and his use of union money for costly investigations into the personal lives of UNITE HERE officers.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the author of the new book, Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century (University of California Press)

Republished with permission from Beyond Chron

LA Progressive

Published by the LA Progressive on July 2, 2009
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About Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Director of San Francisco's Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the Editor-in-Chief of the online daily newspaper "Beyond Chron." He is the author of three books, "Beyond the Fields", "The Activist's Handbook", and "Reclaiming America".