Wednesday, September 17, 2008

SEIU Resources Diverted by Corruption, Fighting Dissent

Internal SEIU Problems Distracting from Election Work

The San Francisco Bay Guardian reports that SEIU's efforts in the November election are hampered by corruption and internal struggles:

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its 2 million members helped Obama defeat Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. Its ground operation and bulging political war chest are crucial to Democratic Party hopes in November, both in the presidential election and congressional races. But a recent corruption scandal and an ongoing internal dispute that threatens to blow up in the coming weeks could undermine the union's political influence at the worst possible time.

"If SEIU didn't have to deal with this distraction, it would be able to do more to influence the election," Dan Clawson, a labor scholar and professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told the Guardian.

CSUEU is SEIU local 2579.

Compressed Background: Corruption and Disputes?

These are very abbreviated summaries of the corruption (ULTCW, SEIU 6434) and internal disputes (UHW) mentioned in the Guardian article:

SEIU Local 6434, also known as United Long-Term Care Workers (ULTCW), made hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable expenditures of union funds, including payments to relatives and friends of its president. The Los Angeles-based local has been placed into trusteeship and all officers removed. Federal investigations are underway.

SEIU 6434 represents caregivers who tend to the elderly and infirm, typically making around $9 an hour. Local 6434 is one of the SEIU mega-locals created when previously independent locals were merged by SEIU President Andy Stern, who then appointed new officers.

SEIU United Healthcare Workers - West (UHW) has filed charges against Stern and SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger, alleging a campaign of retaliation against UHW that is designed to silence the voices of members and elected union leaders who have opposed Stern and Burger's policies, and intimidate those who might also speak out.

Stern wants to move 65,000 workers currently represented by Oakland-based UHW out of UHW and into Local 6434, despite objections from affected members and UHW leadership. UHW says this is punishment for its objection to a concessionary 'Alliance' deal with nursing home operators that is favored by SEIU and Local 6434. SEIU has moved to place UHW into trusteeship, which would allow Stern to remove the elected officers and appoint his own replacements.

United Long-Term Care Workers, SEIU 6434: Spending, Elections, Intimidation

The article which began the Los Angeles Times series on SEIU Local 6434 (Union, charity paid thousands to firms owned by official's relatives) laid out the local's spending habits:

California's largest union local and a related charity have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to firms owned by the wife and mother-in-law of the labor organization's president, documents and interviews show.

The Los Angeles-based union, which represents low-wage caregivers, also spent nearly $300,000 last year on a Four Seasons Resorts golf tournament, a Beverly Hills cigar club, restaurants such as Morton's steakhouse and a consulting contract with the William Morris Agency, the Hollywood talent shop, records show.

[…] In its Labor Department filings, the local, headed by Tyrone Freeman, has reported more liabilities than assets for each of the last three years.

Freeman, who leads the United Long-Term Care Workers, said he and his union have done nothing wrong. "Every expenditure has been in the context of fighting poverty," he said.

Later articles in the series put a face on the membership whose dues funded Local 6434's spending, detailed a growing collection of federal investigations into the union local's conduct, and reported that SEIU finally put the local into trusteeship and removed some staff:

Update added 4:30 p.m.: SEIU accuses local union leader of misusing funds
The Los Angeles Times reports this afternoon that SEIU is accusing SEIU Local 6434 president Tyrone Freeman of misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars in an alleged corruption scheme and is firing Freeman's top aide and other local staffers. The article says the internal investigation turned up new allegations that Freeman spent union funds on his Hawaiian wedding and improperly paid himself stipends through an affiliated local and a housing corporation. The internal review was headed by former state Attorney General John Van de Kamp.

SEIU President Andy Stern Seeks Ethics Advice

SEIU President Andy Stern said he would contact 2 outside groups, the Association for Union Democracy and Teamsters for a Democratic Union, for advice on an ethics code. The leaders of those groups were skeptical of Andy Stern's proposals and said the SEIU had not advised them that they would be recruited for such a role.

"Why does he need a new code of ethics?" said Herman Benson, founder of the Assn. for Union Democracy. "People didn't know that what they were doing was wrong? It's preposterous."

In SEIU needs more democracy not more codes, Benson writes:

We are confronted here essentially by the outright misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars of union money to enrich union leaders and their friends and family. Does a bank need an ethical practices code to inform tellers that it's wrong to steal money from the till? Is it necessary now to remind SEIU officers that they must not steal, and that we really, really mean it?

Benson founded the Association for Union Democracy, a pro-labor, non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the principles and practices of democratic trade unionism in the North American labor movement.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another good link is the SEIU Member Activists for Reform Today (SMART) website: at

What I really like about SMART is that it is an organization of democratic union reformers from various locals around our union who are all rank and file members of SEIU just like us.