SEIU members protest against Andy Stern

More SEIU stories: here UHW stories: hereAndy Stern stories: here

Whitewash in the works, Stern ducks accountability

Thousands of health care workers from around the state gathered Friday in San Mateo to protest what they said was a hostile takeover by their parent union.

Members of United Healthcare Workers-West, or UHW, milled outside the San Mateo Event Center in red T-shirts bearing the slogan "Hands off Our Union" as former U.S. Labor Secretary Ray Marshall conducted hearings inside on the dispute between UHW and its parent, Service Employees International Union.

SEIU has charged UHW leaders with improperly using millions of dollars of member dues and other misconduct and recommends putting the local union under a trusteeship, which would remove its internal leaders from power.

"The international wants to appoint people to come in and run the bargaining teams when they know nothing about our facility and what our needs are," said Linda Cornell, a secretary in the medical and surgery unit at Stanford Hospital.

Michael Torres, a respiratory therapist at the USC University Hospital in Los Angeles and an elected UHW representative, said SEIU president Andy Stern and Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger engaged in a smear campaign against UHW and tried to undermine its contract negotiations with employers.

They "have acted like the worst union boss — even worse than my current employer, who intimidated us, harassed us, threatened us and told us to never vote union," said Torres, who is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit UHW filed earlier this month
against SEIU in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The suit alleges that SEIU officials quashed internal dissent by attempting to discredit UHW with negative publicity and orchestrating the trusteeship, "wherein Stern assumes autocratic control over a dissident subordinate entity, its members, property and assets, and terminates its democratically elected leaders."

UHW officials say their union became the target of SEIU's wrath after criticizing the parent union's practices. They have also accused SEIU of mailing Stanford Hospital workers, who were voting on whether to join UHW earlier this month, letters that negatively portrayed the local union.

"We have received a lot of information from the international, all negative toward UHW," Cornell said. "Our employer used that information to try to dissuade people from voting the union in again."

SEIU spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette called those charges unfounded and said internal union rules require that members receive written notices about trusteeship hearings and corruption charges against leaders.

The only way Stanford workers would have received those mailings prior to joining the union is if UHW mistakenly provided information in the members' database, Ringuette said.

"The allegations against SEIU leadership are serious," Ringuette said. "We have no more important responsibility than to protect our members' interests and to make sure that we are fully accountable to them for how their dues money is spent."

She noted that SEIU establishes trusteeships in about four unions per year.

"Trusteeship is not political," Ringuette said. "We set a very high bar for ourselves."

After the hearings end, Marshall will allow members and officials from both unions to make written submissions for 30 days. He will then submit a report to Stern, who will ask SEIU's executive board to make a final call on the proposed trusteeship.

That decision could come as soon as November, according to union officials.


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