UHW: SEIU Can't Fire Us -- We Quit!
Likening the takeover of their union local to an act of "martial law," leaders of the Oakland-based United Healthcare Workers-West announced the formation of a new union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, that would have members in Los Angeles. During a teleconference with media, UHW president Sal Rosselli denounced his removal from office and his local's being placed into trusteeship by its parent union, the Service Employees Union International.
The SEIU, headed by Andy Stern, announced late Tuesday afternoon that it was seizing control of the 150,000-member UHW, which for the last four years has resisted Stern's attempts to peel off the 65,000 of its members who work in the homes of patients to form, with two other locals, a much larger unit comprised solely of longterm-care workers.
Rosselli said that just prior to the teleconference, he and about 100 other UHW had resigned their SEIU memberships. (Today UHW's Web site no longer carried Rosselli's picture nor his messages to members.)
SEIU's Washgington D.C.-based executive board, Rosselli charged, had waged an "unprecedented campaign against this union. They sent hundreds of [people] to California to confront our members with lies and lawsuits. 'We're not going anywhere,' we said. 'We need to reform SEIU.' Andy Stern's actions have changed that. Our members hate SEIU now."
In response to questions about UHW assets, Rosselli indicated his side would not contest the international's right to take control of UHW's five offices.
"These five buildings are not the union, our members are," Rosselli said.
The UHW conference was immediately followed on another phone line by an SEIU teleconference. Stern was not present to answer questions at that event, but two Stern-appointed trustees, David Regan and Eliseo Medina, along with SEIU executive vice president Mary Kay Henry, answered the questions of sometimes skeptical-sounding journalists. For the most part the SEIU spokespeople divided their remarks between the need for organized labor to look ahead under the Obama administration, and characterizing Rosselli and his followers as a small group of malcontents who repeatedly violated union rules to carry out their opposition to Stern.
"It is sad when a group of local officers lose their way," Regan said.
"Forming a new union that would split labor at this time seems ludicrous," said Henry.
Regan denied a key allegation of Rosselli's, saying that SEIU representatives had not gone into healthcare facilities to inform HR and management staff that the current UHW shop stewards no longer represented the rank and file employees. Regan claimed they had only informed management that UHW's senior officers had been removed.