Friday, January 30, 2009

United Healthcare Workers forms new union as SEIU moves against local

Lisbeth Latham
Months of simmering tension within the Service Employees International Union finally broke this week as the SIEU's leadership moved, on January 27, to place its third largest local the 150000 member United Healthcare Workers - West under trusteeship. The UHW-W board responded on January 28 with an announcement that they were resigning from the SEIU and would be moving to establish the National Union of Healthcare Workers.


The SEIU had given UHW-W two ultimatums on January 23, demanding that the Local accept transfer of 65,000 nursing home and homecare workers out of UHW against their will, or face an immediate takeover and the expulsion of more than 70 healthcare workers who were elected to lead the local union.

The UHW-W executive board replied to the SEIU stating "given the enormity of this decision and its vast implications for UHW members," the executive board wrote, "such a decision should be enacted by a fair membership vote on a local-by-local basis, not by executive fiat." Their letter called for a democratic voting process that is "consistent with the SEIU Constitution and follows the model of the merger between Local 250 and Local 399 that led to the creation of UHW in 2005, and the various mergers, including most recently of 1199NJ, and other local unions into 1199UHE." The SEIU had held a non-binding advisory vote in November and December, however only 8% of affected members voted and the UHW-W had run a boycott campaign against aspects of the ballot it argued were undemocratic.


Following the UHW-W refusal to meet the SEIU's demands, SEIU International President Andy Stern moved to place UHW-W in trusteeship. Under the trusteeship the Local's assets were frozen, dissolved the UHW-W executive board and removed from the payroll all full-time staff. The SEIU sent employers a memo saying that the SEIU was now in charge, that UHW staff no longer had any authority and that employers should report any contact by UHW staff.

UHW-W president Sal Rosselli told the January 29 LA Times that following the trusteeship employers had broken off negotiations and informed some of the union's stewards that they would no longer recognise their authority. SEIU executive vice-president Dave Regan, one of the co-trustees appointed by SEIU, said shop stewards and other rank-and-file representatives have not been stripped of their positions and are trying to ensure that all bargaining goes forward without delay.

The SEIU's move to place UHW-W under trusteeship follows the recommendations of trusteeship hearings held over November and December. These hearings were initiated to instigate financial irregularities with-in the UHW-W. Ray Marshal, Labor Secretary during the Carter administration, who was hired by the SEIU to conduct the hearings, found that the UHW-W had established a not for profit entity with the intention of funding confrontation with the SEIU's leadership. Marshal found that this was insufficient to warrant trusteeship, but recommended that the union be place in trusteeship if it continued to oppose the SEIU's previous decision to shift 65000 members from the UHW-W to a single local representing workers in long-term-care.

UHW-W leaders said it is unprecedented to have a trusteeship request denied, and argued that Marshall linked two unrelated disputes by tying his recommendations to the fate of UHW-W's long-term care members.

Rosselli told Labor Notes "We suspect that the hearing report from Secretary Marshall got amended by SEIU lawyers to get their desired outcome," UHW-W's former head Sal Rosselli said. "Frankly we don't have a lot of respect for it being some independent report or process."

Prior to the publication of Marshal's recommendations, the SEIU had already moved to establish a offices in Oakland and Los Angels from which to impose the trusteeship with staff from across the country being flown into California to help take over the UHW-W.

According to Labor Notes, although many staffers were initially told that UHW-related assignments would be voluntary, the International informed organisers that failure to travel to California will be "considered a resignation."

New Union Launched - National Union of Health Workers
Following the announcement of the trusteeship, thousands of UHW-W members rallied at UHW-W offices across California to express their anger at the trusteeship. Hundreds of members occupied UHW-W offices on January 27 and 28.

On January 28, the UHW-W executive board announced that they had formed the National Union of Healthcare Workers and would begin to collect union cards as a first step towards winning recognition in their workplaces.

Announcing the creating of the union, Rosselli said "As a healthcare workers union, NUHW is committed to continuing the tradition of a member-led, democratically controlled union. There are lot of things that we still have to figure out, but we know NUHW will be all about accountability to the members, democratic-decision-making, organizing the unorganized and winning improvements for healthcare workers and the patients and residents we serve."

The UHW-W had little choice but to establish a new union, the original push to conduct a disaffiliation ballot had little chance of success even prior to the trusteeship. The SEIU constitution makes it almost impossible to win such a ballot, not only are union staff not allowed to support such a campaign, if just seven members support a local remaining affiliated to the SEIU then disaffiliation is not possible.

Constructing a new union will also be exceeding difficult. It is not sufficient for members of the UHW-W to decide they wish to be members of the NUHW for the new union to get bargaining rights. The workers would first need to be in a workplace which is in an "open period" prior to contract expiration and then file for an election and then attempt to defeat the might of the SEIU. However the UHW-W renegotiated 100 contracts in 2008 so the process will take many years.

Despite these difficulties UHW-W members who want a democratic union have little choice but to form a new union. "For decades, healthcare workers in California have wanted to be part of a democratic, progressive movement that would raise standards for caregivers and the patients and residents we serve. Events over the last several days have proven that's not possible in SEIU," said Angela Glasper, a 20-year optical services clerk from Kaiser Permanente. "Healthcare workers deserve to be part of a union that healthcare workers control democratically, not one that is led by a handful of outsiders from Washington D.C.".

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FIOM Statement on Gaza

The following statement was originally posted at MRZine's website.

Italy's Most Powerful Union:
Prosecute Israeli War Crimes, Suspend EU-Israel Agreement

Federazione Impiegati Operai Metallurgici nazionale (FIOM), the largest metalworkers union in Italy, whose membership numbers 360,000, called for prosecution of Israeli officials for war crimes and suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement as well as of the military cooperation agreement between Italy and Israel. The following is FIOM's 13 January 2009 statement on Gaza published on its Web site. -- Ed

Federazione Impiegati Operai Metallurgici nazionale
Corso Trieste, 36 - 00198 Roma - tel. +39 06 85262341-2 fax +39 06 85303079
www.fiom.cgil.it - e-mail: protocollo@fiom.cgil.it

Comitato Centrale

COMITATO CENTRALE F.I.O.M.
13 gennaio 2009

GAZA

For nearly two years the Gaza Strip has been subjected to what can only be described as a state of siege by Israel, with interruption of electricity, lack of heating, scarcity of drinking water, a healthcare emergency and no freedom of movement for persons or goods. UN Observers have repeatedly denounced the condition of the inhabitants of Gaza as inhumane, in violation of all International Conventions on Human Rights.

Thus, it appears a kind of “collective punishment” has been imposed on all Palestinians because of the vote expressed in the democratic elections two years ago, with a Hamas victory. For FIOM, the negative political evaluation of this organization is not up for discussion and we reiterate our choice to support the formation of an independent, secular and democratic Palestinian state living in peace and mutual security with that of Israel. What we denounce is the international community’s tolerance and, in fact, support of the mistaken choice of the siege, which contributed to the strengthening of the fundamentalist forces and armed groups of all types, rather than their isolation. The launch of Kassam rockets on Israel is also the result of this situation. This rocket fire is wrong and illegal, because it hurts Israeli civilians. It is harmful to the Palestinian cause itself. And it is used to create consensus in the Israeli population on the offensive against the people of Gaza. The Israeli army began its attack on Gaza on December 27, 2008, with a substantial deployment of forces, followed by a land invasion and use of white phosphorus on the civilian population, which is banned by international conventions, causing a true massacre, and committing intolerable war crimes for any democratic conscience.

Israel has gone so far as to attempt to hide what is happening, preventing International Observers and journalists from entering Gaza. Those responsible for these crimes must be prosecuted and judged by the relevant international institutions. The Israeli government should be held accountable for its repeated violations of international law, including humanitarian law, by national governments, the European Union, the international community, just as violations committed by any other government would be.

In particular, the EU-Israel Association Agreement, whose application is bound to respect of human rights, should be immediately suspended; the Italian government, which, unlike other European governments, has characterized itself in a negative light by the complete subordination and support of political choices of the Israeli government, must suspend the Military Cooperation Agreement of Italy with Israel, a belligerent country that violates international law and human rights.

In denouncing this situation, the FIOM Central Committee believes it necessary to immediately ensure that all political forces, the government, European and international institutions work for:

An immediate, general and permanent ceasefire;
Humanitarian protection of the civilian population of Gaza;
An end to the invasion of Gaza and withdrawal of Israeli troops;
Cessation of missile fire on Israel;
An end to the siege and embargo of Gaza;
Concrete steps to achieve a rapid end to the occupation of Palestinian territories.
These conditions can promote the opening of a negotiated peace -- based on the resolutions of the United Nations -- which includes all stakeholders, beginning with the legitimate institution of the PNA, and finding ways to include Hamas as a democratically elected representative.

The FIOM Central Committee condemns all initiatives of an anti-Semitic nature and those that deny the right of the State of Israel to exist.

We judge negatively all anti-Arab or anti-Muslim expressions.

We express our solidarity to Palestinian people and our support to that brave minority inside Israeli civil society that is fighting against the occupation, against the Gaza siege and the current massacre.

We commit ourselves to supporting the above-mentioned objectives and in participating in all the activities that focus on them.

On the 17th of January, different groups and coalitions called for two separate demonstrations for the ceasefire in Gaza. Although we think these simultaneous demonstration inopportune, we believe that it is essential that the two initiatives not to be in contrast, because in both cases the demonstrations are in solidarity with Palestinian people and to stop the massacre.

Therefore, FIOM, in addition to participating in the demonstration in Assisi, called by Tavola della Pace, that engages the whole of Cgil, will also be present with a delegation at the demonstration in Rome, called by the Palestinian Community.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The statement in English is available in PDF at <www.fiom.cgil.it/cc/cc_09_01_13-odg_gaza-eng.pdf>. The statement in Italian, also in PDF, is at <www.fiom.cgil.it/cc/cc_09_01_13-odg_gaza.pdf>.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

US employers lay off thousands of workers as crisis deepens

Lisbeth Latham

According to figures released by the Bureau of Labor on January 9, US employment in non-farm private sector employment plummeted by 524,000 during December as companies moved to cut costs in response to the slow-down in the global economy. The decline has occurred across almost all sectors of the US economy, reflecting the depth and breadth of the current economic crisis.


The job losses take the total reduction in employment to 2.6 million for 2008, the worst decline since 1945. The last four months of 2008 saw employment decline 1.9 million. The worst-affected sectors were manufacturing and construction, which shed 149,000 and 101,000 jobs respectively. During 2008 employment in manufacturing declined by 791,000 while in construction it dropped by 666,000. Employment in retail declined 67,000 in December and 522,000 for the year, while total employment in wholesale fell by 30,000 for the month for a total decline of 164,000 in 2008.

Chris Latham

The only sectors to experience an expansion in employment were education and healthcare. Employment in healthcare and education grew by a total of 377,000 for the year and increased by 45,000 in December.

The decline in employment has resulted in the growth in the number of unemployed growing to 11,108,000, or 7.2 per cent of the work force, the highest figure since January 1993, up from 4.9 percent at the beginning of 2008. Unemployment is highest amongst African Americans (11.9 per cent) and Hispanic Americans (11.9 per cent) compared with 6.6 per cent for “whites”. The unemployment rate among teenagers is 20.8 per cent.

In December, there were 8 million workers classified as working in part-time employment for economic reasons, i.e. workers who are working part-time due to an enforced reduction in work hours or as they are unable to find full-time work, an increase of 3.2 million for the year.

Adding to the picture of reduced demand resulting in falling output is the decline in the hours worked. The average work week for production and non-supervisory workers fell by 0.2 hours to 33.3 hours the lowest figure since 1964. The average work week in manufacturing declined by 0.4 hours to 39.9 hours in December, while the average amount of overtime worked declined by 0.3 hours to 3.0 hours per week.

The continued expansion in job losses reflects the global economic crisis is continuing to deepen and has the potential to accelerate and build momentum.

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United Healthcare Workers-West to consider disaffiliation as the SEIU moves to carve Local up

Lisbeth Latham

On January 9, the International Executive Board of the Service Employees International Union voted to begin a process of breaking up its third-largest local, the 150,000-member United Healthcare Workers-West. The move follows months of hostility between the leaderships of the SEIU and UHW over the direction of the union, particularly how to build the union and achieve the best outcomes for workers. Part of the hostility has surrounded ongoing threats that the UHW-W would be put into trusteeship by the SEIU. The UHW-W has responded to the International Executive Board’s decision by requesting that the IEB initiate a ballot on disaffiliating from the SEIU.


The IEB decision means that 65,000 UHW-W members in long-term care will be moved into a new union local which will also include members from two other Californian SEIU Locals 6365 and 521.

The UHW-W has opposed the removal of 42 per cent of its membership on three levels. The SEIU has pushed to form state-wide mega-locals with memberships clearly defined along industrial lines, giving the union increased clout with both employers and politicians. The UHW-W, which organises across the healthcare workers, has argued that its structure is consistent with this logic.

SEIU’s President Andy Stern has argued that unions need to build “a ‘working relationship’ that can add value to the business and help improve performance [that] will result in workers sharing fairly in their employers’ success”. The UHW-W has argued that this results in the conditions of existing members being undermined. It also believes its more militant mobilisation of members against employers has not only delivered better outcomes for members in long-term care but has facilitated the organising of new workplaces. Finally the UHW-W’s leadership argues that any decision regarding how members are moved between locals should be made by the members affected rather than by the International’s leadership.

Ballot on the future of the Californian long-term care workers
The IEB’s decision to restructure long-term care has been justified on the outcome of a ballot of Californian SEIU members in November and December 2008. In the poll 21,008 members voted in favour of forming a new California-wide long-term care local. At the time of the ballot the UHW-W raised concerns over the democracy of the ballot, including:
• The ballot was only advisory, so its outcome could be ignored by the SEIU if it wished;
• The ballot was a pooled vote rather than a ballot by local, so all votes were included together, reducing the ability of the wishes of the members of individual locals to be taken into account;
• The vote did not give members a true choice as they were only offered a choice of forming a new long-term care local or a new combined healthcare local; there was no option to maintain the existing local structure;
• The leaderships of the affected locals were not informed at the same time, with the leaderships of both Locals 6365 and 521 being informed of the ballot in advance of the papers being sent to members, while the leadership of UHW-W was only informed of the ballot after the papers were sent to members.

In response the UHW-W called on members to boycott the poll and initiated a petition campaign where SEIU members in long-term care were encouraged to fill out cards protesting the ballot. This campaign was successful: just 24,366 votes were received out of 309,000 eligible voters (an 8 per cent return) and the UHW-W collected cards from 40,000 members including 1,000 members of Local 6365. In addition the UHW-W collected the signatures of 85,000 members on a petition against the ballot.

Disaffiliation
On January 11, the leadership of UHW-W sent the IEB a request that it initiate a ballot of UHW-W members to formally disaffiliate from the SEIU. The request follows the UHW-W’s executive board receiving letters and petitions from members across California requesting that UHW-W disaffiliate from SEIU. According to the UHW-W the requests for disaffiliation have cited three concerns as motivating the requests:
• The forced removal of 65,000 long-term care members from UHW;
• The stifling of union members’ free speech rights;
• Widespread corruption by Stern-appointed union leaders (the president of Local 6365 is one a number of SEIU senior officials to have been stood down in 2008 for the misuse of hundreds of thousands of dollars of members’ money).

Despite requesting that a ballot on disaffiliation be held, the executive board of the UHW-W has indicated that it will not be taking a position in support of disaffiliation. This is due to the changes in the SEIU’s constitution that were made at the SEIU convention in July 2008, which state that “no officer or local union or affiliated body shall support or assist any efforts to dissolve, secede or disaffiliate from the SEIU”.

It is unclear how the SEIU will respond to the UHW-W’s request for a ballot or what the UHW-W will do in the event the SEIU refuses to allow a ballot. The IEB’s decision to re-organise the Californian locals will not be implemented until at least February 9, while a disaffiliation vote takes at least 60 days to be scheduled, making it likely that the conflict between the SEIU’s IEB and the UHW-W will intensify.

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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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