When I first learned you would become SEIU’s new President, I was filled with hope that you would change SEIU for the better. I am relieved that you have just last week signed an agreement to cease hostilities against Unite Here, putting an end to a mistaken campaign of aggression that put SEIU at odds with the rest of organized labor. You have said that reunifying our movement is one of your goals.
I believe that unity in the labor movement means putting our shared principles above our individual differences. And one of the most fundamental principles we share is that every worker should have the right to organize–to talk with her co-workers about the issues they share, to advocate for collective solutions, and to make the decision to join a union without threats or intimidation.
Yet, over the past month, I have personally witnessed a coordinated effort by SEIU leaders in California to deny thousands of healthcare workers their federally-protected right to organize with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).
Thousands of Kaiser Permanente workers filed a petition with the labor board in June, asking for a fair, government-supervised election so they could end their membership in SEIU and join a union they feel better represents them. They petitioned to join NUHW because they want to take back control of their union after a hostile takeover by your predecessor.
I know that you and I do not agree on the issue of whether Kaiser workers should choose NUHW or SEIU. But I hope we can agree that they have the right to make a free choice in a fair election, and that they have the right to fully participate in that collective decision by talking openly with their co-workers.
I recently visited four Kaiser medical centers in Northern and Southern California, in order to meet with healthcare workers and lend my support. In every facility, I witnessed identical conduct by SEIU staff. Workers met in the cafeteria–a public space in the hospital where their right to talk about the union is protected by federal law. Every time workers met to talk about NUHW, SEIU staff surrounded them and began chanting and yelling insults, refusing to let workers talk, and being so disruptive that Kaiser security (sometimes the local police) had to shut down the entire cafeteria. (Video)
Each time workers were ordered out of a cafeteria, your staff cheered. These disruptions are clearly a planned tactic to stop workers from organizing their union by denying them the right to talk with their co-workers in the one public space in the hospital. An SEIU planning memo actually instructs staff and members to “Create WWIII”–in California hospitals–in order to drive out NUHW supporters.
This is no surprise; in previous election campaigns the National Labor Relations Board has filed charges against SEIU organizers for intimidation and harassment of NUHW supporters. Three courts have upheld a restraining order against an SEIU staff member who made death threats against a Kaiser social worker while trying to prevent her from talking with me.
Tactics that are intended not to persuade or inform, but to intimidate and deny workers’ right to free speech in public space, have no place in any union election campaign. They are deplorable, and violate the most fundamental principles of our movement.
As a co-founder of the United Farm Workers, I have seen how destructive bullying and intimidation can be when it comes from another union. The violence against farm workers by the Teamsters in the 1970s was a sad chapter in labor history. Our movement cannot be united as long as any union is willing to use these tactics against another.
Today, it is your staff and appointed local leaders who are responsible.
Will you use your authority as President of SEIU to put a stop to these tactics?