Obama Touts Pro-Union Views, Hammers Clinton Over NAFTA
“It is time to let unions do what they do best: organize,” Obama said during a stop at a drywall factory in Lorain, Ohio. “That’s why we need to go ahead and pass the Employee Free Choice Act.” According to Sal Roselli’s attack on Andy Stern a few weeks ago (and now Obabma agrees) “representation” is not what union’s do best!
Obama Touts Pro-Union Views, Hammers Clinton Over NAFTA
Barack Obama has been accused of borrowing lines from Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Mass., a supporter.
He also seems to be borrowing from former rival John Edwards.
In campaign stops across Ohio, the Illinois senator has portrayed himself, as Edwards did, as an economic populist. Calls to national unity and transcending differences are mixed in with attacks on drug and insurance companies, calls for minimum wage hikes and an end to outsourcing.
He has stressed his ties to Big Labor, vowing action on their policy wish list, like reworking trade deals such as NAFTA and making labor organizing radically easier.
“It is time to let unions do what they do best: organize,” Obama said during a stop at a drywall factory in Lorain, Ohio. “That’s why we need to go ahead and pass the Employee Free Choice Act.”
Obama’s talk on unions and populism comes as he tries to sew up the Democratic nomination with wins in Texas and Ohio on March 4.
Selling Populism In Ohio
Ohio is heavily unionized and is facing hard economic times. The state has lost 200,000 jobs since 2000. Unemployment was 6% in December, a point higher than nationwide. The median income is $4,000 below the U.S. average.
Obama has repeatedly hit Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., on NAFTA, saying she can’t take credit for the success of her husband’s administration without taking the blame for its failures. NAFTA, he says, has “devastated” Ohio and the country.
Obama has won high-profile endorsements recently from the Teamsters, the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers.
“For seven years I had been (the unions’) ally in the state legislature, sponsoring many of their bills and making their case on the floor,” Obama wrote in his political memoir, “The Audacity of Hope.”
He credits unions with saving his U.S. Senate bid. After the AFL-CIO backed a rival for the Democratic nomination, several big service worker unions endorsed Obama anyway, helping him get the nod.
“So I owe those unions. When their leaders call, I do my best to call them back right away,” he wrote, adding, “I don’t consider this corrupting in any way. . . . I got into politics to fight for these folks, and I’m glad a union is around to remind me of their struggles.”
The card check bill, for example, would let unions organize via a petition drive, bypassing a secret ballot overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. Critics say that may result in worker intimidation.
Obama would overturn NLRB rulings classifying some people in nursing, construction and other industries as supervisors that therefore aren’t eligible to be organized.
He vows to close loopholes that benefit firms that outsource abroad and says he would renegotiate deals like NAFTA to include worker and environmental protections in the U.S. and in other countries.
Unions will play a role in vetting and monitoring those agreements, the Obama campaign says.
“Labor unions are very much involved in terms of reviewing and making known what their opinions are, more than anything else,” said spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Several union officials slammed Clinton over NAFTA in an Obama campaign conference call Monday.
“The Clinton administration was not only the architect of the deal but shoved it down the throats of Democrats in Congress,” said Bruce Raynor, president of Unite Here.
NAFTA is a sore subject for Chad Henry. A worker at the drywall factory in Lorain, he says he lost an earlier job at a communications company because of it.
“Everything went to Mexico,” he said. “They brought the Mexican work force up here. We trained them on our jobs. Next thing you know we had a meeting and we did not have jobs anymore.”
So when Henry heard Obama attack NAFTA during Monday’s stop at his factory, one might expect it would win him over. It didn’t.
“I’m still up in the air,” Henry said, adding he was more interested in how Obama would handle the housing slump, which is worrying to the drywall factory worker.
John Hunter, a former United Auto Workers official, says candidates often bad-mouth NAFTA. Union voters have become jaded.
“He didn’t give a lot of meat about what he would do,” Hunter said.
Rosselli Resigns From SEIU Exec Committee, Charges Stern Interfered in Local’s Affairs
The president of one of the largest locals of the Service Employees International Union Feb. 9 resigned from the union’s executive committee, citing an “overly zealous focus on growth ... at any cost” as well as undemocratic practices foisted upon the local by the international and its president.
In a resignation letter to SEIU President Andrew Stern obtained by BNA, Sal Rosselli, president of the 150,000-member United Healthcare Workers West, wrote that as labor leaders “we are obligated to place the needs of our members first and to uphold democratic principles not only in the workplace, but also in our union. That is increasingly being blocked, circumvented, and manipulated,” he charged.
Rosselli, who plans to remain at the helm of United Healthcare Workers West, then laid out numerous instances in which he alleged that Stern personally interfered with the local’s affairs to the members’ detriment.
Stern could not be reached Feb. 11 for comment on Rosselli’s accusations. Another executive committee member, Dave Regan, who is president of District 1199 WV/KY/OH, however, criticized Rosselli’s letter as an “unprincipled betrayal of the work of the union in the last 12 years,” adding that Rosselli participated personally in every leadership decision made within the union.
In an interview with BNA Feb. 11, Rosselli said that prior to sending the letter he met with numerous elected SEIU leaders in California as well as his own executive board and decided that it is “time to draw a line in the sand” and tell the international to stop interfering. He said this action was precipitated by a “series of things that happened in the last couple of weeks.”
According to Rosselli, Stern unilaterally eliminated a unity council consisting of representatives of all SEIU locals that bargain with Catholic Healthcare West and appointed an international union consultant to “manage our collective bargaining relationship.” He said that Stern took the action even though the council had been created by CHW rank-and-file leaders and approved by the international’s executive board.
“Your decision potentially weakens us just as we are about to enter negotiations for 16,000 CHW employees, jeopardizing the lead contract of our 2008 contract campaign that has lined up the expiration dates of nearly 100 acute care hospitals covering approximately 100,000 caregivers,” Rosselli wrote in his letter to Stern.
SEIU is preparing to engage in a coordinated bargaining campaign with the health care industry with 100 hospital contracts expiring in either May, June, or July. A vast majority of the expiring hospital contracts are in California and cover numerous facilities of Catholic Healthcare West, Daughters of Charity, and Sutter Health (156 DLR A-7, 8/14/07).
Rosselli told BNA that in a Feb. 5 letter Stern said he was suspending the unity council structure and putting an SEIU employee in charge of coordinating bargaining. Rosselli said the contract with CHW expires May 1 and bargaining is scheduled to start later this week. In regard to Stern’s letter, he said that 100 SEIU elected leaders from 32 CHW hospitals met recently and made it clear that they intend to be in control of their own bargaining, not the international.
In another allegation, Rosselli charged that Stern silenced UHW members bargaining with the California Nurses Home Alliance by directing representatives of the international to “meet with our employers behind our backs and then abused your power by barring UHW members and staff from participating in direct negotiations with our employers, despite the fact that UHW represents 75 percent of the nursing home members in bargaining.”
A controversial agreement negotiated by the international with a number of California nursing home chains that gave SEIU the right to organize a certain number of nursing homes in California in exchange for meeting “political benchmarks” was terminated in May 2007, partially due to Rosselli’s local’s dissatisfaction with the agreement (114 DLR C-1, 6/14/07). Shortly before the agreement was terminated UHW’s board demanded that the international give rank-and-file members a “seat at the bargaining table and the final vote to ratify any employer agreement that involves their employers.”
Despite the termination of the agreement, Rosselli added that it is “obvious” based on recent meetings with representatives of the nursing home industry that the international is still engaged in “secret talks” with these employers.
Rosselli further alleged that Stern and the other international officers interfered in the affairs of the SEIU California State Council, which represents 650,000 California SEIU members, by prompting an election to replace him as its president, despite the fact he had two more years left on his term to serve as president. He further alleged that the international manipulated “the per capita voting formula and procedures” in order to control the “outcome of the election and seat the leader of your choice.”
Annelle Grajeda, president of SEIU Local 721, was elected Dec. 3, 2007, to head the state council, replacing Rosselli, whose term was not slated to expire until 2009. Grajeda, a staffer at the former Local 660, was named by Stern to lead Local 721, when Local 721 was formed from the merger of seven locals that included Local 660.
Following SEIU’s 2004 convention, the international began the process of merging numerous locals in California into several large locals. Stern then appointed the presidents, other officers, and executive board members of the merged locals, according to sources within SEIU.
Secret Meetings with Schwarzenegger Alleged
In another allegation, Rosselli charged that Stern’s “secret meetings” with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and other elected state officials without the participation of leaders of California SEIU locals “fatally weakened our many years of disciplined work to bring about true health care reform.”
Rosselli said the secret meetings led the California politicians to believe that SEIU and the entire labor movement would “settle for far less than was necessary to protect the interest of working families or to win the support of California’s voters.” He charged in his letter to Stern that the final agreement that was reached was “flawed and tainted as a result of your actions and was politically doomed.”
The state Senate Health Committee Jan. 28 rejected omnibus health care reform legislation that was approved by the assembly in December (20 DLR A-5, 1/31/08). Many labor unions opposed the bill, arguing that it lacked adequate controls on what health plans and insurers could charge for coverage, which the unions said would render premiums unaffordable for low- and moderate-income Californians.
Other Allegations Cited
In other allegations, Rosselli charged that Stern personally:
Rosselli told BNA that Stern sent a letter to every health care local that represents both hospital and long-term care members alerting them to a Feb. 12 hearing that has been scheduled to “determine local union jurisdiction” and to look at national, regional, and areawide bargaining agreements.
Rosselli also made a number of charges against other international officers and staff. Specifically, he charged in his letter that in a deliberate attempt to “create instability in important ongoing organizing campaigns by fomenting mass resignations among” the local’s Southern California organizing staff, international officers and staff helped “orchestrate the recent resignation” of the organizing director for Southern California.
He also charged that international officers and staff manipulated voting procedures in bargaining with Tenet Healthcare by trying to cast per capita votes on behalf of “unorganized workers who had no knowledge of the negotiations, paid no dues to SEIU, and were not even in the process of forming a union.” He added that the failed effort would have given away the members’ right to strike for seven years and forced them to accept lower standards.”
“The Nursing Home Alliance agreements and others negotiated by the International Union appear to regulate entire categories of workers to permanent second-tier status, without basic rights and standards to be expected in a union contract or any reasonable hope of achieving them,” Rosselli wrote. “This transactional exchange of members’ rights and standards for greater numbers contradicts the core mission of SEIU,” he added.
Noting that up until now he has abided by the code of conduct that requires executive committee members not to discuss what happens within the committee, Rosselli wrote that he could no longer in good conscience remain silent, which is why he decided to resign from the committee, which consists of 20 members appointed by Stern.
Regan Says Rosselli Acting on Personal Agenda
Meanwhile, in an interview with BNA Feb. 11, Regan said that presidents of other SEIU locals are angry that Rosselli is putting his “personal agenda above the common agenda” of the union.
According to Regan, since 1996 when Stern became president, the union has been trying to figure out how it needs to change in order to confront employers that are increasingly regional, national, and global. The union decided its locals needed to be interdependent with each other, and larger, so there has been tremendous consolidation among locals, he added.
Rosselli’s local was able to grow from about 40,000 to 140,000 members due to some of the changes he is now criticizing, Regan said. “He helped formulate what he is now criticizing,” he said.
Regan contended that UHW has been involved in bargaining with other SEIU locals but “could not or would not approach” some of the employers on a unified basis with the other locals. The international had to create a structure so the locals would “speak with one voice,” he added.
Regan added that the union has increasingly made decisions to give authority to the international officers to deal with employers that have negotiations with numerous SEIU locals. He added that Rosselli agreed to some of the positions he is now criticizing.
By Michelle Amber