California

SEIU's Twilight Struggle Begins, or, If You Don't Like It Top-Down, Why Are You In the Service Industry?

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Red-shirted crew members prepare to beam into SEIU/NUHW fight.

Here's a sure sign of a double-dip recession: The most powerful union in California is self-destructing. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has launched a serious, costly campaign to suppress a breakaway union led by a former SEIU local boss.

Sal Roselli, head of National Union of Healthcare Workers, says his group's effort to organize (or reorganize?) 43,000 SEIU–United Healthcare Workers-West (SEIU-UHW) members at 331 Kaiser Permanente medical sites could be curtains for SEIU. Background from the New York Times:

For years, Mr. Rosselli had allied himself with [current SEIU boss Mary Kay] Henry's predecessor, Andy Stern. But the relationship broke down in 2008 when Mr. Rosselli grew convinced that Mr. Stern was marginalizing him.

Mr. Rosselli began complaining that Mr. Stern was an undemocratic, top-down leader who was not giving his Oakland-based local enough say in negotiating national contracts. He complained that Mr. Stern had bargained clandestine deals that traded away gains for current workers in exchange for making it easier to organize employers' nonunion facilities.

Mr. Stern removed Mr. Rosselli in January 2009 for misusing dues money and refusing to accept the parent union's decision to transfer 65,000 members to another local.

Now, Mr. Rosselli seems intent on getting back all his former members — and then some. His union has already won a dozen smaller elections against the S.E.I.U., although it has lost several contests, too.

Mr. Rosselli contends that if his union wins at Kaiser, that will be the beginning of the end of the S.E.I.U. as a national health care union. His goal is to take away S.E.I.U. members at the California operations of Tenet, Sutter and other hospital chains, diminishing the S.E.I.U.'s clout with national companies.

If Mr. Rosselli loses the election, his union could wither away. 

SEIU vows to crush Rosselli like a bug. NUHW has already picked up a handful defecting shop stewards.

The Times describes SEIU as a private sector union, but it is also the largest of the unions still in contract talks with the state of California, and it represents local and state government employees all over the country.

The breakup of SEIU into discrete services and healthcare unions makes sense in a post-PPACA world. Within ten years nurses and orderlies may not be in any meaningful sense private sector employees. So until D.C. nationalizes the hospitality industry, that will put the goals of hotel workers, Aramark hashslingers, janitors and other private sector workers in conflict with the goals of healthcare workers.

Rosselli has brought in Chicago muscle to help in his efforts. Organizer Ed Sadlowski describes the lack of democracy in SEIU:

The labor movement in our country has done many fine, great things. It has developed people to help us provide for ourselves, to live a better life tomorrow than we did yesterday. But there are few unions that really try to develop a "two-party" system. Most of them, with few exceptions, become single-party, autocratic power structures. Most constitutions allow for competitive elections, but in reality they rarely happen. It breeds a feeling from the workers that they aren't really part of the union itself. It breeds discontent. They can become dictatorial. This is what has happened in SEIU… so the worker on the shop floor doesn't have any voice at all.

This is a fair point. The only thing less democratic than union democracy is actual democracy. But it's not clear how having more choice in union leadership decisions would do much to end the exploitation of the proletariat. The more time you spend choosing between Rosselli and Henry, the less time you have to, maybe, build some value for the people who pay you 100 percent of your income (not counting moonlighting), or even check out Craigslist to find a better job.

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  1. Excellent alt-text.

  2. SEIU vows to crush Rosselli like a bug.

    1) And we’re *service workers*, so by golly we can do it!

    2) Probably more like: SEIU vows that Rosselli will sleep with da fishes.

    1. There’s probably a little bit of room left in the end zone of the Oakland Coliseum.

  3. “The labor movement in our country has done many fine, great things. It has developed people to help us provide for ourselves, to live a better life tomorrow than we did yesterday. But there are few unions that really try to develop a “two-party” system. Most of them, with few exceptions, become single-party, autocratic power structures. Most constitutions allow for competitive elections, but in reality they rarely happen. It breeds a feeling from the workers that they aren’t really part of the union itself. It breeds discontent. They can become dictatorial.”

    It’s also true that, in theory, the elections of boards of corporations are competitive and shareholders are in charge.

    1. Shareholders are in charge, just not the ones most people think of when they hear that word. Just because CALPERS, Fidelity, and Morgan Stanley own the majority of shares for a particular company doesn’t mean they aren’t shareholders.

    2. Corporations don’t make the decisions you think they should therefore shareholders have no say. Right.

      In truth, most shareholders simply don’t want to make the decisions you do. Shareholders look for economic efficiency and wealth creation and not the pursuit of the latest social engineering fad.

      You of course can change all that merely by putting your money where you mouth is.

      1. It’s hilarious how many libertarians have’nt heard of the principal-agent problem in the corporate context.

        1. It’s hilarious how you think naming a well-known and extensively studied problem is some kind of an argument, or even an effective rejoinder.

        2. It’s hilarious how many leftists have’nt heard of the principle-agent problem in the political context.

          Yep, turns out the principle-agent problem applies to elected officials and all government workers. They all act to advance their own interest before the interest of the people who elected.

          It’s really, really hilarious how many leftists think they can solve one principle-agent problem by substituting another principle-agent problem.

  4. Wasn’t it just five years ago that SEIU was the breakaway union?

  5. Splitter!

  6. The NUWH is totally going to use mass drivers to bombard the SEIU homeworld from orbit.

  7. The labor movement in our country has done many fine, great things. It has developed people to help us provide for ourselves, to live a better life tomorrow than we did yesterday.

    Yes, by extorting money from their customers. Unions don’t help “labor” or “workers”. Unions help a legally privileged minority of working people by the explicit transfer of wealth from those who work in the free-market to those granted a government monopoly.

    For example, for 40 years the UAW had a monopoly on the production of cars in the US. The UAW made of point of imposing the same contract on every car company so that no company suffered any loss of market share from raising prices to pay for union perks. That means the customer, not the companies or their shareholders paid the union member’s above market compensation. Worse, the government enforced their monopoly giving consumers no real choice. The same condition applied to steel and all other unionized industry and services.

    Unions cannot provide any benefit to their members without exploiting someone else, usually someone worse off. Despite their class warfare rhetoric unions are means of transferring income from politically dispersed group citizens to the politically concentrated and connected.

    This is why unions can’t actually raise overall standards of living long term. If everyone is in a union, who are they going to steal from? You used to see this a lot in the cities in the Northeast. Everyone in the private sector from the bag boy on up was in a union as were all public employees. Yes, unions got people above market incomes but because they got everyone above market incomes, everyone’s cost of living went up. It cost more for a UAW member to build a house, buy groceries, purchase consumer goods and receive government services. It was literally buck passing. It only worked for a while because the devastation of WWII left the area the only major industrial area in the free-world.

    The California unions are running into the same problem. There aren’t enough productive people left in California to steal from. Every time the union gets the members a sweet deal they suddenly find their cost of living has mysteriously risen. Nobody ever really gets ahead (expect for the union bosses of course.)

    In the end, you can’t escape the free-market. The value of an individual’s labor is purely the resources that others will voluntarily exchange for it. When short sighted people use the implicit violence of the state to force a better deal for themselves, they make someone worse off and create an inherently unstable system. The people being exploited fight back somehow, often by shifting their economic choices, and the free-ride comes to an end.

    1. Bravo! Shannon, you have got yourself a thread winning post.

    2. So when you negotiate the best wage you can from your employer you are stealing from the employer’s customers?

      1. No, when you get politicians to help you force the same price structure on an entire industry (monopoly building, in any other context) through favorable legislation, the economically weakest link, typically consumers, is the one to get screwed.

      2. MNG,

        Out of curiosity, when a mafia-associated trucking company explains that you are going to do business with them and pay higher prices for their shittier service or else, is that not a form of extortion?

  8. So when you use your state-supported monopoly position to negotiate the best above-market and unsustainable wages you can from your employer you are stealing from the employer’s customers?

    Yeah, pretty much.

    1. R C, I am sure that you can appreciate how the law treats the individual union member who believes that he has sustained injury proximately caused by his union’s failure to fairly represent him, if at all.

      IMO, there may not be a more collectivist mindset in the law than that which undergirds the treatment of the remedies available to an individual union memeber vis-a-vis his union.

  9. I bow humbly to Shannon Love.

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