Friday, July 10, 2009

SEIU President Andy Stern Issues Powerful Statement to SEIU IEB RE: Ongoing Unite Here Dispute

SEIU President Andy Stern recently issued a powerful statement to his executive board in which he clarifies SEIU's position in the ongoing Unite Here dispute and denounces the false accusations and distortion of reality that characterize Unite Here's campaign against union democracy.

Andy Stern once again reiterates that he, Bruce Raynor, and Edgar Romney have already reached out to John Wilhelm and Unite Here to settle this dispute as quickly and fairly as is practicable, and offered to submit to binding arbitration, a position that a majority of the leaders, advocates, and activists in the labor and progressive movements have supported since the inception of this fight.

The full text of Stern's statement is below:

FROM: Andy Stern, International President
TO: SEIU International Executive Board
DATE: July 7, 2009

RE: Update Regarding Workers United, the UNITE HERE Convention and Our Call for Binding Arbitration

I wanted to give you some background on one issue for our IEB call on Wednesday: the statement of solidarity against inter-union raiding released at the UNITE HERE convention last week.

Over the past few months, there have been a series of accusations and mischaracterizations that have gone with minimal comment from SEIU as we have honored our commitment to d├ętente with UNITE HERE. We have declined to date to take the bait, instead ceasing all hostilities and incursions on UNITE HERE locals.

We have talked for weeks with many leaders including those who signed the letter—some who called for and still support our call for binding arbitration—to reinforce that SEIU agrees to the principles in the letter that oppose raiding, respects core jurisdiction, and wants a quick end to the settlement. Many leaders, including the Officers, were disappointed on how this letter -- which we would have signed -- was provocatively used by a handful of HERE partisans.

SEIU and Workers United continue to focus on what is in the best interest of all our members: bringing this conflict to a swift resolution.

In that spirit, we have repeatedly asked John Wilhelm to join us before an independent panel for binding arbitration. In fact, many prominent labor and progressive leaders have joined our call for John Wilhelm to settle this dispute, including AFT president Randi Weingarten, UAW president Ron Gettelfinger, actor and activist Danny Glover, numerous Central Labor Council presidents, Benjamin Todd Jealous and Julian Bond of the NAACP, NUPGE President Jim Clancy and others. You can read their individual letters here.

Because there has been some confusion as to SEIU's position regarding Workers United and UNITE HERE, I want us all to understand where we stand:

  • SEIU has accepted the framework proposed by UFCW President Joe Hansen, and we stand ready to let President Hansen arbitrate this dispute. SEIU would honor the results of binding arbitration.

  • SEIU accepts that hotels and gaming are the core jurisdiction of UNITE HERE, and we accept Joe Hansen's recommendation on food service being a core jurisdiction for SEIU. We have said to Joe Hansen and John Wilhelm that SEIU is not interested in raiding UNITE HERE members or organizing hotel or gaming workers generally. Both UNITE HERE and SEIU in previous discussions with Joe Hansen made requests for limited exceptions in each others’ jurisdictions based on unique circumstances. SEIU believes that the arbitrator should develop a principle that applies equally to these disputed food service and hospitality workers and we should all live by the results.

  • SEIU is not raiding UNITE HERE, and UNITE HERE must end its attacks on Workers United/SEIU and its raids on our members. SEIU called for a "cease fire" last April and we have honored our commitment. However, while we stood down, UNITE HERE escalated its strategy of attacking Workers United members and leaders, interfering with bargaining, and asking employers to escrow dues. For example:

  • UNITE HERE organizers have been attacking California laundry shops since December 2008. While thousands of California laundry workers are fighting right now for strong contracts for themselves and their families, employers like ARAMARK are using UNITE HERE's interference to refuse to schedule bargaining dates. Please see Attachment #1 for actual leaflets distributed by UNITE HERE.

  • UNITE HERE has contacted more than 1,600 Workers United Employers and urged them to escrow dues and deny access to union representatives. At Atrium Windows in Texas, the company used this to deny manufacturing workers access to health and safety records that workers need to protect themselves from unsafe working conditions. Please see Attachment #2 for letters sent by UNITE HERE asking for employers to escrow dues and cease bargaining efforts with Workers United.

  • UNITE HERE is sending organizers into Workers United locals to disrupt bargaining. In Philadelphia, 2,500 Workers United members who provide school breakfast and lunch to students cannot get the school district to negotiate with them despite the fact that their contract has expired because UNITE HERE sent in 20 organizers to challenge their rights to bargain. Please see Attachment #3 to read a letter from the Philadelphia School District explaining its decision to escrow dues.

  • UNITE HERE has encouraged employers to stop bargaining for first contracts at newly organized workplaces. At the Courtyard Marriott Niagara, where a worker had been fired for organizing, workers are still waiting for their chance to bargain a first contract after John Wilhelm wrote to the newly organized hotel and told the employer to stop bargaining. Please see Attachment #4 to read a letter from UNITE HERE Local 274 instructing a Workers United employer to stop negotiations with “SEIU’s Workers United.”
I know this is not where members need us to focus our time, so we have consciously resisted moving resources away from healthcare, free choice, budget battles and contract fights. We have invested our efforts in encouraging final and binding arbitration. If you’ve followed recent headlines, you know that SEIU is hard at work:

  • bringing strange bedfellows like Wal-Mart to the table to deliver bold healthcare reform,
    saving Hartmarx workers' jobs,

  • fighting unscrupulous employers like Bank of America,

  • challenging the Chamber for its anti-worker positions, and

  • standing for justice for immigrants in this country.
I am proud of this union, and I know that together, the work we do makes a real difference in our members' lives and for the future of hardworking women and men all around this country and Canada.

The ball is now squarely in John Wilhelm's court. Workers United and SEIU have taken every measure, made every effort and gone to every extreme to end this ugly dispute. This will be settled eventually. The only question is how many workers will go without contracts or endure attacks by their bosses in alliance with UNITE HERE in the interim. It is time for binding arbitration with Joe Hansen or any neutral party. We can find a final binding settlement or we can continue to let this dispute hurt workers. SEIU has made our choice.