Friday, June 12, 2009

Sinking Ship, Meet Escaping Rats

We've been hearing about the "brain drain" that has happened ever since UHW became Zombie UHW, with the lion's share of that experience going over to the NUHW side.

However, the SEIU "drain" just keeps going unplugged. The Plague has most recently lost Josie Mooney to the CA State Employees Association CA School Employees Association (thanks to an alert reader!), and it rumour now has it that they are preparing to move the Zombie UHW deputy trustee, Kim Evon, down to Tyrone Freeman's infamous SEIU Local 6434, which has proven to be the shining gate to unemployment.

Now, with all this shuffling around and people in very high positions going on to greener (or at least drier) pastures, you would think that the Zombies would make sure that they keep the long-term employees who stayed through the trusteeship transition around, if for no other reason than they are familiar voices and names that the members would recognize, and further that they are the familiar voices and names that the managers would recognize in the event of necessary representation activities.

But of course, for SEIU, all that was predicated on two things: 1) Taking the SEIU Loyalty Oath, and 2) Doing anything and everything that Thug Regan and Esquirol Medina tells ya to do. Dissension in the ranks is not to be tolerated, see? Rats such as this need to be tossed off the ship even if they may want to stay on until the last, final moment.

And so we come to the case of Greg Tegenkamp, a long-term Zombie UHW field rep and organizer who goes back to the Local 250 days, but who decided to stay on with Zombie UHW instead of leaving in protest when the trusteeship was imposed. As matters evolved, he was being asked to do more and more things that he felt were not in the interests of the people he was charged to serve as a field rep and organizer.

It took being required to partake in the Fresno IHSS fight - and the process of SEIU phone banking in that effort - to bring matters to a boil for Mr. Tegenkamp, as he relates in his E-mail to Thug Regan:

May 31, 2009
Dave Regan, Trustee
United Healthcare Workers West, SEIU
560 Thomas L. Berkeley Way
Oakland, California 94612

Dear Mr. Regan:

This letter is to inform you of my decision not to participate in the Fresno Home Care Blitz and to help you understand the reason for my decision, First, I must tell you a little about myself and my involvement in the labor movement.
In 1997, I started working for Local 250, one of the few Unions whose vision inspired me to apply. ‘When I started, Local 250 had around 30,000 members and today, it has close to 150,000, with about 100,000 in the former jurisdiction of 250. When I started, we were at the early stages of changing from a business union to a member-driven union. Martinez Kaiser, one of my facilities, had only two stewards. Walnut Creek had about a dozen, but one really controlled everything. I received upward to 20 calls a day from members, on average. At the time of the trusteeship, these facilities had about 30 and 50 stewards respectively. I now receive less than 10 calls a week from members. Some facilities are better organized than others, and there remains a vestige of the old servicing model in some. In Southern California, the transformation started later and the growing pains have been hard, but real progress was being made and people were getting past the feelings that the North was imposing its ways on the South.

UHW before the trusteeship, was a vibrant organization that really did put members first and did really believe in Union democracy. For two years prior to the trusteeship, we all know the International and UHW were engaged in an internal dispute about policy and direction of the Union. No matter how that dispute is framed and no matter what side one may have been on in that dispute, one thing is indisputable: the International Union spent an unprecedented amount of resources attacking one of its Local Unions. I have been active in the labor movement for over 30 years and I have never seen anything like it. Some of the glossy mailers sent to our members' homes and even sent to non-members who we were attempting to organize were worse than anything I had seen from union-busting law firms. To this day it is hard for me to fathom how someone who is the leader of a large international union could endorse such action.

Nonetheless, I did not resign from UHW upon trusteeship, as many of those who I admire did. I knew there would be chaos and I knew there would be confusion, mistrust and anger among our steward leaders and members. I feared that representation of our members would suffer and I chose to stay in order to do what I could to avoid this from happening. I did not quite know what to expect from the trustees, but I hoped they would accept me for my contributions and in return I would keep an open mind and perhaps, in time, through their actions, they would earn my trust.

I suppose I hoped for too much. What I see is some of the stewards and staff least respected by members being promoted to positions of authority, solely because they have an ax to grind with the previous leaders. What I hear is the current leaders referring to members as “idiots” because they support NUHW. What I don’t see is very many real leaders stepping forward in support of SEIU. What I don’t hear is any commitment to real democracy. Sure, you want more members on the Local Organizing Committee than were on the previous Executive Board, so you can say how inclusive you are, but it is very clear that the only voice these members will have is to repeat what ever message the trustees decide, which is currently "Destroy NUHW at all costs". If you cannot pledge to carry that message don’t bother applying. The Executive Board set policy, the LOC can only follow the policy set by the trustees.

This all brings us back to the Fresno Blitz and my decision not to participate. Simply, I refuse to lie to members to get them to do something, because this is manipulation. Furthermore an organizing campaign that relies on manipulation evinces no more than a cynical disrespect for members. The telephone script for the Fresno phone-banking contains many misrepresentations and some straight, flat out lies. It is a lie, for example, that the former leaders "were removed for misusing members' money." The truth, and you know the truth, is that the former leaders were removed for not co-operating with the transfer of the long term care members to a local where the leader was removed for misusing member's money to enrich himself, his wife, his wife’s family and his friends. It is also a lie, although one of omission, not to tell the members that if they vote to "remain" in UHW they are really voting to be moved out of UHW into Tyrone's old local. If SEIU is indeed the better choice for the Fresno Homecare members, why are we not focusing on the reasons they should remain in SEIU? Why do we need to lie and misrepresent and vilify the opposition leadership?

The other day while phone banking, I sort of got into it with somebody named James Hunter. I had overheard him leaving a message, saying that the NUHW folks were taking peoples' ballots from them and if they tried to take "your ballot" to call some 559 number. I asked him where this was on the script and how could they be taking ballots when ballots hadn't even been mailed yet. He showed me where the script said they would "probably" engage in this behavior. He also said this was how NUHW won the Doctor's Hospital election, by going door to door and taking people's ballots. I asked rhetorically if this was how a 7:1 victory was achieved. He said he worked on the campaign arid his experience talking to workers, the election should have been about even.. He went away for a few minutes and care back citing Kim Evon’s e-mail as proof of his assertions, since Kim said at least three times that the election was "tainted" it must be true.

I avoided repeating the lies and misrepresentation when I phoned, but I overheard others, with unchecked imaginations, expanding on what was on the script. I cannot blame them, because they have been whipped into a state of frenzy by you and others in high positions within the trusteeship. I have heard you exhort the troops to share your "righteous indignation" right after you told us all that we were "doing the Lord's work" (your frequent religious sermonizing I find personally offensive, by the way) by fighting to destroy NUHW. The former leaders of UHW have been called thieves, liars, power hungry, self-aggrandizing, opportunistic, satanic and worse. For those of us still with SEIU who know the former leaders, we know these to be lies. And the latest epithet being bandied about is that they are "union busters". I guess that makes Dolores Huerta, an icon of the labor movement, a union buster, since she supports NUHW. Does it make Andy Stern a union-buster? How are the raids of UNITE-HERE or, in the past, CNA, different front what NUHW is doing?

You talk to us about the values of UHW and speak of your admiration for Nelson Mandela for not seeking retribution against those who imprisoned him and tell our lost-time members to hold out an olive branch to NUHW supporters. Yet you follow that up with saying you are not done yet with efforts to get Josh Wiser removed from his position with SEIU 1000, simply because he was a former UHW staff member who left in support of NUHW. No retribution there. And for a different audience, you said that SEIU's attorneys would be thoroughly examining every document returned by the former leaders and it was your hope that they would be caught withholding something so they could go to jail where they belonged. I guess one day it might be New Testament and turn the other cheek, but for now it's all Old Testament and an eye for an eye.

I refuse to compromise my values and principles by being part of a dishonest campaign. Furthermore, I have yet to hear anything to convince me that SEIU is the better choice for these members. How can I be expected to sell SEIU when the only facts I can rely on are SEIU has lots of members and lots of money and NUHW doesn’t.

Shortly after the trusteeship I was placed on paid administrative leave because I refused to sign a sort of "loyalty" letter. After 30 days, I was allowed to return to work with the understanding that my role would be centered on representational issues within Kaiser, not only at my facility, but also in assisting other areas who had no experienced reps and assisting with regional bargaining. I understood it to be a condition of my employment that I support SEIU but I also made it clear I would nor do anything unethical or morally repugnant. I expressed it as my sincerest desire to remain with SEIU so I could continue to organize the members at Kaiser to fight the boss (albeit in the peculiar way we fight the boss in the LMP), and not to be embroiled in the Sal v. Andy dispute. I know I have been performing my role well and I wish to continue doing so, without being required to participate in the negative campaigning. Perhaps this is not possible and you will wish to terminate my employment. I can accept that consequence for myself. But 1 will be touched with added sadness for the members whom it has been my privilege to represent for the last 12 years, as their immediate interests continue to be neglected.

Please let me know your decision. I will be reporting to my facility tomorrow.

Yours truly,
Greg Tegenkamp
Lead Field Representative/Organizer

Cc: Mary Grillo Greg Maron

Greg Tegenkamp was fired by SEIU on Monday, June 8th.

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