Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dear Andy...

The Infamous Perez Stern has sources within the Purple Plague that I could only dream of, but this resignation letter that a SEIU senior organizer from out in New York sent to Our Glorious Maximum Leader is too good not to share. What is special about this particular individual's resignation letter is that she, Audra Makuch, was an organizer in Local 250 (the NorCal predecessor to UHW), and was in the Emergency Services division at the time that the paramedics in Local 250 voted to decertify from 250 and organize within NEMSA. So I think it's pretty clear that she a) has some experience with what the Purple Plague is doing here in California, and b) also has an emotional stake in what is going down.

Well, enough got to be enough for Ms. Makuch, and she decided to find herself another gig. But before doing so, she sent off a letter to Our Glorious Maximum Leader, and decided to make it public...

Today is my last day at SEIU. I can't tell you how disappointing it was for me to decide to leave. I have been helping health care workers join our union, first at Local 250/UHW and then at the International, for over 7 years. For the most part it has been a job that inspired me everyday. I have never been so challenged in my life.

Last week, in my last meaningful task at SEIU I spent the week in DC working with members who were in town to talk to their congressional reps about the Free Choice act. It was absolutely the best of what SEIU is and can be. Member leaders articulated both why the union is good and why the current process to get a union is not only undemocratic but gives the power to one or two men who happen to be the boss. What was going on at that conference was in sharp contrast to what you and the other leaders of this union were doing at that same time in California (UHW, et al), keeping corrupt leaders on staff (Rickman Jackson, Annelle Grajeda) but laying off the union's organizers, and most alarmingly interfering in UNITE/HERE's internal struggles. You are not a CEO and unions do not pull hostile takeovers on each other.

The biggest struggle in labor is the tension between organizing on scale with huge employers and remaining democratic and meaningful organizations for our members. These are not either/or's. In fact, many local unions in SEIU have been successful in that quest, including UHW. As you know, I was on staff there for nearly 5 years and of course part of my reaction is emotional, and if you knew the talent you were casting out, yours would be too. More than that, I am appalled that your answer to UHW's critique is to destroy the local. Not only is that a ridiculous reaction, it is also a terrible use of resources. 91,000 workers so far have filed petitions to decertify SEIU. We are spending all of our time meddling in other union's internal politics (CNA, UNITE/HERE), trying to destroy what once was among the most functional local in the country, and we are not planning meaningful organizing in Healthcare. No wonder we are laying off those organizers, we're apparently out of the business of organizing workers.

I know that I am not the only staff member leaving SEIU, whether by choice or by lay off. There is a terrible morale problem here. So many of our staff have put their lives on hold to organize workers into this union, and well they should. But can you imagine living in hotels, going home once or twice a month and having no control over your schedule--for what? To ask the boss to fire UHW stewards? Or to ask nurses to run against their elected leadership? Or, is it to try to decertify some of this country's best union hotels in Las Vegas?

Most of us, the best of us, come to this work to push people into taking power back at their workplace and in their lives. We have done too little of that recently. SEIU will lose many good staff in this period, and the union will suffer for it. I can not say enough how wonderful so many of the SEIU staff are. I have learned so much from working with so many of them. They and our members deserve better than this.

Ultimately, I will put my trust into our members; I urge them to hold their local and national leaders accountable. We all desperately need them to do that.

Audra Makuch
Campaign Coordinator
I suppose it is a good thing that some senior SEIU staff are taking note of what is going out here in Cali, and are making known their objections to it to Brother Stern. It's just regrettable that they have to do that while on their way out the door.


  1. I think what is much more important and relevant than what Audra Makuch now says about the SEIU-UNITE/HERE dispute is the account, linked-to above, of the actions that UHW’s predecessor union, SEIU Local 250, took in the face of Sacramento-area emergency medical workers’ attempt to leave SEIU L. 250 for another union, NEMSA.

    Did L. 250 accept the choice of those workers, of whom 91% signed petitions asserting their preference for NEMSA? It did not. Did it use the NLRB and the filing of unfair labor practice charges to prevent those workers from making a choice? It did exactly that.

    What this article doesn’t include is the rest of the story. An election was ultimately held and the emergency medical workers did vote out SEIU L.250 and vote in NEMSA. But even the vote was not enough for L.250 and it continued to file NLRB charges in order to try to overturn the election results. It did not succeed in doing so.

    Did L.250 give up its efforts then and accept the choice of the emergency medical workers? Not exactly. After the failure of its every attempt to force the workers to stay in L.250, L.250 went after its own former labor representatives who had dared to help the workers exercise their choice. It took them to court and sued them for the loss of L.250’s dues from those workers. That case it won, making the former labor representatives liable for many thousands of dollars to be paid out of their own pockets. Then L.250 sent around a memo to its remaining staff, crowing about its great victory against its “disloyal” former staff members.

    For those with an interest in the SEIU UHW-W struggle with its ousted leaders, remember that the same people who ran L.250 then are now running NUHW. The same people who rejected the imperative of a petition to change unions signed by 91% of a unit of workers are now insisting on their current union being recognized based upon 50+% of workers in a unit signing petitions. The same people who complain about SEIU using the NLRB to investigate its allegations of unfair labor practices by NUHW had no hesitation about doing the same when they were running L.250 and trying to keep L.250 members from moving to NEMSA.

    Please explain again the reason for your belief that these people are trustworthy and accountable to members.

  2. As I have explained on multiple occasions, it is my opinion that Local Is Better. From a purely practical point of view, it is far easier by far to vote out the mayor of San Mateo than it is the mayor of San Diego.

    As it is right now, there will be no elections for the replacement E-board at any time in the foreseeable future. Furthermore, any stewards who did not swear eternal fealty to Our Glorious Maximum Leader were summarily dismissed by the UHW Trustee - an action which stands in direct contravention to the UHW Constitution and By-Laws.

    But that's okay, I suppose, because the UHW Constitution and By-Laws are now null and void, courtesy of Andy Stern.

    I have spoken to Sal Rosselli. Eliseo Medina and Dave Regan will not return my E-mail. That, right there, helps me make a judgment as to which side is going to be more accountable.

    If you think that a Stern-appointed trustee will be more responsive to the needs of the rank-and-file then will someone who will openly stand for election at the founding convention in April, then that is your right to do so.

    I would remind you that you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. The facts are that Andy Stern and his associates have used template agreements in the nursing homes, while Rosselli and Borsos concentrated on actual functioning contracts that include actual rights of grievance and review. The facts are that, back in the late 1980s the LMP process was forged out of the 1987 strike which damn near sank KP. Rosselli was instrumental in forming the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, and the LMP process borne out of the cooperation between the Coalition and KP has helped vault KP into a consistently top-rated HMO while routinely being in the lower third of customer price point. Etc. Etc.

    I do not personally lionize Sal Rosselli. However, he is here. He has been here, and he has done that, and he's earned the T-shirt. The only thing Andy Stern has earned is a nice scarf and the everlasting enmity of 90,000 dues-paying members whom Stern has treated as his personal chess pieces.

    Right now, we are being given a binary choice - Andy Stern or Sal Rosselli.

    Given that binary choice, I'll take Sal any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

  3. A binary choice? No! Nononononono. A thousand times no.

    Just because that’s how SEIU and NUHW want you to see it doesn’t make it so.

    Somehow you and others where I have posted have gotten the idea that I support SEIU over NUHW. Not true. My current thinking on the subject can best be summed up as “a pox on both their houses”.

    Andy Stern is awful. But everyone already knows that. My point here and elsewhere is to share my painfully gleaned knowledge that Sal Rosselli is also awful.

    Until the NLRB has set an election, your choices are not set in stone. The “contract bar” can be a gift. Take your time. Consider. There ARE other possibilities.

    I completely agree with your statement that Local is Better. And Even More Local is Better Still. How about the rank-and-file workers at each hospital or group of hospitals forming their own employee associations? For example, the Kaiser workers could form the Kaiser Permanente Employee Association. Then, if they want the resources of a larger union, they could enter into a provisional, revocable, duration-certain affiliation agreement with NUHW or SEIU or Union X or whichever organization offers them the best deal. If that doesn’t work out, then the Association can terminate the affiliation and try some other arrangement. Or go it alone.

    The power really is with the workers. You don’t need a magic feather, whether the feather is named Rosselli or Stern. Just spread your ears and fly.


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