California educators, writers, and advocates call on SEIU President to stop retaliation against reformers

by on November 13, 2008 · 2 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Labor, Organizing

BERKELEY, Calif.- More than 50 prominent educators, writers, and worker advocates have sent a letter to SEIU President Andy Stern denouncing his ongoing campaign of retaliation against union members in SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW). Members of UHW and their elected leaders have been leading a reform movement within SEIU for greater democracy and more involvement of rank-and-file members in decision-making.

In May, many labor scholars became concerned that SEIU leaders were threatening UHW with trusteeship, a process that would replace UHW’s democratically elected leaders with a trustee appointed directly by Andy Stern. SEIU officials assured the public that the fears were completely unfounded, and that no trustreeship was planned. Contrary to those assurances, SEIU has recently moved forward with proceedings to put UHW into trusteeship, with a final hearing on the matter opening this Wednesday, Nov. 12.

The endorsers of the letter write that such a takeover “would be a disaster for the California labor movement (and SEIU nationally).”

Signers include the writer and UC Riverside Professor Mike Davis; UCSF Professor of Sociology and Nursing Charlene Harrington; UCLA Historian and Economist Robert Brenner; and the presidents of the Los Angeles and Oakland teachers’ unions, Betty Olson-Jones of the Oakland Education Association and A. J. Duffy of the United Teachers of Los Angeles.

Full text of the letter follows.

An Open Letter of Concern to Andy Stern About United Healthcare Workers-West From California Educators, Academics, Writers and Worker Advocates

November 9, October 2008

Mr. Andy Stern
Service Employees International Union
1800 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036

Dear Andy Stern:

On May Day, 2008, more than 100 scholars, writers and activists, many of them longstanding supporters of SEIU, wrote to you and urged
reconsideration of any plan to place United Healthcare Workers-West in trusteeship. That public letter said: “Putting UHW under trusteeship would send a very troubling message and be viewed, by many, as a sign that internal democracy is not valued or tolerated within SEIU.”

The letter endorsers were told, at the time, that no such plan existed and that UHW statements about this matter were simply not true. Such reassurances were received in a personal message from SEIU EVPs Eliseo Medina and Gerry Hudson and in a letter signed by 47 other SEIU leaders. As recently as July, the threat of an international union take-over of UHW was dismissed as a “myth” by SEIU IEB member Stephen Lerner (in an exchange of views posted on MRZine).

Now, we’ve learned that you indeed ordered UHW trusteeship hearings. These began in San Mateo on September 26 and 27 and are scheduled to resume and conclude next week in San Jose. Moreover, you have gone ahead despite an enormous outpouring of opposition from UHW members and others, including the protest in Manhattan Beach by 5,000 SEIU members opposed to the arbitrary
removal of 60,000 UHW-represented workers to Local 6434 in Los Angeles. More than 8000 members protested at the San Mateo hearings. At the same time, the media has reported very serious allegations of corruption involving Local 6434 President Tyrone Freeman, which have led to his removal by your office and an on-going investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor that could lead to criminal charges against him. It would appear that those home care and nursing home workers faced with the possibility of forced transfer from
UHW to Freeman’s local have had good reason to resist.

We in California have, of course, a great deal at stake in the outcome of these disputes. The trusteeship fears of UHW seem to be very
well-founded. While a clean-up of 6434 may require outside intervention, we believe that a simultaneous, unjustified take- over of 150,000 member UHW would be a disaster for the California labor movement (and SEIU nationally). It would further disrupt current contract negotiations with major health care employers, while also impeding much-needed political action to defend state worker jobs in health, education and other public services. As the May Day letter endorsers did last spring, we urge you to “avoid such a tragedy”–by
respecting the autonomy and constructive dissent of UHW.


Frank Bardacke, Writer, Labor Educator and Founder, Third World Teaching Resource Center

Martin Bennett, Professor of History, Santa Rosa Junior College, Executive Board, North Bay Labor Council

Jeff Blankfort, Radio Host, KZYX, Mendocino Public Radio

Gillian C. Boal, Rare Book Conservator, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley

Iain A. Boal, Professor of Social History, UC Santa Cruz

Gray Brechin, Visiting Scholar in the Department of Geography, UC Berkeley; Project Scholar of the California Living New Deal Project.

Bob Brenner, Director, Center for Social Theory & Comparative History, UCLA

Summer Brenner, Environmental Justice Activist, Berkeley

Charles Briggs, Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley

James Brook, poet, San Francisco

Jose Calderon, Professor, Sociology and Chicano Studies, Pitzer College

Jamie Court, President, Consumer Watchdog

Mike Davis, Writer and Professor, Creative Writing, UC Riverside

A. J. Duffy, President, United Teachers of Los Angeles

Judy Dugan, Research Director, Consumer Watchdog

Barry Eidlin, Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

Richard Flacks, Professor of Sociology, University of California Santa Barbara

Jack Gerson, Executive Board and Bargaining Team, Oakland Education Association

David Goldberg, Treasurer, United Teachers of Los Angeles

Charlene Harrington, Professor of Sociology and Nursing, UC San Francisco

Dan Hodges Chair, Health Care for All-California

Ramsey Kanaan, PM Press, Oakland

John Kramer, Professor of Political Science, California State University Sonoma

Karl Kramer, Treasurer, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement – San Francisco, Campaign Co-director, San Francisco Living Wage  oalition

Jack Kurzweil, Former President (San Jose State University Chapter),
California Faculty Association, SEIU 1983

Sasha Lilley, Program Director, KPFA

Dr. Arthur Lipow, Center for Global Peace & Democracy, Alameda

Jeff Lustig, Professor, Political Science Dept. CSU Sacramento.

Joseph Matthews, Attorney

Nathanael Matthiesen, Sociology, University of California, Irvine

Tom Mertes, Administrator, Center for Social Theory & Comparative History, UCLA

Franco Moretti, Professor of Literature, Stanford University

Claudia Moura, Professor, Social Science, Santa Rosa Junior College

Betty Olson-Jones, President, Oakland Education Association

Raj Patel, Writer, Visiting Scholar, UC Berkeley

Richard Perry, J.D., Ph.D. Professor of Justice Studies San Jose’ State University

Vivian Price, Coordinator, Labor Studies, California State University, Dominguez Hills

Melvin Pritchard, Professor of History, West Valley College

Tom Reifer, Sociology, University of San Diego; Associate Fellow, Transnational Institute

Teri Reynolds, MD, PhD, Past delegate, Alameda County Medical Center Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU

Bill Shields, Chair, Community and Labor Studies, City College of San Francisco

Faith Simon, Mendocino Institute

Norman Solomon, Institute for Public Accuracy, Author, War Made Easy

Vanessa Tait, author, Poor Workers’ Unions: Rebuilding Labor from Below, Member, UPTE-CWA Local 9119, UC Berkeley

Kay Trimberger, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, California State University Sonoma

Richard A. Walker, Chair, California Studies Center, UC Berkeley

Katharine Wallerstein, Executive Director, The Global Commons Foundation

David Walls, Professor of Sociology, California State University, Sonoma

Michael Watts, Professor of Geography, UC Berkeley

Cal Winslow, Fellow, Environmental Politics, UC Berkeley, Director Mendocino Institute

Eddie Yuen, Author, editor and radio producer

*affiliations listed for identification only

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Monty Reed Kroopkin November 13, 2008 at 6:36 pm

People wanting more background on the trouble with the current SEIU leadership can find a wealth of information at several websites maintained by members of the SEIU democratic reform movement.

SEIU Member Activists for Reform Today (SMART) at

SEIU Members for Democracy at

SEIU Voice (maintained by SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West) at

Sunshine on 221 at
and SEIU Local 221 Crafts for Choice at both offer some insight into one of the SEIU local unions here in San Diego and Imperial Counties.

Progressives everywhere do need to get educated about what is wrong right now in SEIU — currently the largest union in the U.S.A. — and NOT sit on the sidelines. What Andy Stern and his faction (not only in SEIU, but broadly in the labor movement) is pushing is a new form of company unionism and collaboration with major employers (corporate and public). To move their agenda, they will also have to crush democracy within SEIU (and the broader labor movement) because the vast numbers of workers are flatly opposed to sweetheart contracts. Sweetheart deals mean the destruction of our standard of living and of our communities.

One thiing we can all do right now, is to lobby Obama to NOT pick Andy Stern to be his new Secretary of Labor !

–Monty Kroopkin,
SEIU Local 221 Steward and elected Union Negotiator
& organizer for SMART


avatar Patty Jones November 15, 2008 at 10:44 am

Monty, Sorry your comments didn’t show up right away, they went into the spam folder because of the multiple links in them.


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