As president of the Services Employee International Union (SEIU), Andy Stern has presided over a union that has grown impressively while at the same time just about every other union in the country has diminished in size and power. Some might think this a tremendous victory for president Stern. But how he has achieved this feat is certainly a matter of concern for everyone, a concern that should cast a pal over this claimed victory.
Question: do unions have a reputation of being transparent with their members? Well, unions in America certainly have the reputation of being run by the worker, for the worker, so transparency is an ideal they all claim to live up to, for certain — graft, embezzlement, mob infestation and corruption aside.
So, why has the SEIU been making secret pacts with other unions as well as employers, the natural enemy of unions? Andy Stern says that it is all in the pursuit of growth. His detractors in the ranks say that his is a growth-at-any-cost effort that places them all at a disadvantage.
Why, Stern has even made secret deals with employers, the full details of which are not being made public even to his own membership. He has made deals that stipulate that the SEIU will give up the right to go on strike. In return, the employers agree with the union which of their plants and businesses will be “allowed” to be unionized as well as how many employees will be organized with the employer making a pact of non-interference of the process.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Andy Stern was impatient with the “old ways” and wanted to grow his union at an accelerated pace.
The SEIU’s president, Andy Stern, said the unions sought the agreements after realizing that traditional organizing campaigns at individual sites were proving ineffective. “The old ways aren’t working, and we’re trying to find different relationships with employers that guarantee workers a voice,” he said. He dismissed the idea that the new agreements are undemocratic. “These workers have no unions; that’s where we start from,” he said.
One of those newer, faster ways to organize will be to get rid of the ability of a prospective union member’s traditional right to a secret ballot where he can vote his conscience free of harassment when asked if he wants to be unionized. The so-called card-check system would find a prospective member forced to reveal to all his coworkers if he voted yes or no for unionization. This leaves the prospective union member open for pressure to vote yes or harassment if he insists on voting no, situations that could not occur if it were a secret ballot.
Naturally, this card-check idea and Stern’s penchant for secret deals and top-down leadership have brought forth accusations that he is anti-democratic in his policies.
It’s hard to fault anyone who’d think so, too.
The Journal summed up the current direction of Stern’s leadership.
The unions gave up the right to strike and to post derogatory language about the companies on bulletin boards. With Compass, the unions agreed to these restrictions “anywhere in the world.” In exchange, the companies agree not to oppose union organizing at the designated locations.
Labor experts said it was highly unusual for unions to give employers the ability to choose which employees a union can try to organize. “That’s not widespread,” said Robert Bruno, associate professor of labor relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “When you agree to these kinds of conditions the question is what is lost and what is gained?”
The agreements enable the unions to organize workers through a simple card-signing process in which the companies agree to remain neutral, rather than a secret-ballot election. The companies agree to provide the unions with lists of employees and access to workers. The unions give up the ability to strike and agree that they will present issues before a labor-management committee before engaging in leafleting or rallies.
It all seems rather cozy, doesn’t it?
Many union supporters as well as many SEIU members on the inside are afraid that Andy Stern has given away the store just to assure growth. They say he is slighting the future of the union, giving away too much power. But, there is an unrecognized soft underbelly to what is being perceived as the iron clad position that Stern is giving employers here.
Does anyone think, once the SEIU amasses the power of mass membership in the services industry, that the union will stay true to its agreement not to strike and to resort only to the arbitration systems between union and employer that current agreements have created?
Does ANYONE imagine that any union is trustworthy enough to stay within their agreements?
Anyone who believes that the SEIU will continue to abide by any agreements is a fool. The second the SEIU imagines they have enough power, all past agreements will be thrown on the scrap heap and strike signs will be raised anywhere the union wants to blackmail these foolish employers into buckling under to further demands — agreements or no.
In any case, it is rather interesting that the SEIU is pursuing secret deals, trying to take away the right of their members to strike as well as to take away their right to the common democratic process of the secret ballot, isn’t it?
No wonder SEIU president Stern is facing stiff resistance even among his own members.
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