Friday, March 23, 2018

President of SEIU Local Union: “Whoops!”

Maine Gov. Paul LePage

Here’s the latest chapter in a story Tasty covered in an earlier post.

Remember when an SEIU union in Maine voluntarily agreed to eliminate “agency fees” requirements from its labor contract during negotiations with right-wing Gov. Paul LePage?

This provision required state employees who chose not to join the union to instead pay a fee to help cover the costs of the union’s collective bargaining and representation services that benefit them. These cost-sharing fees are called “agency fees.”

What did SEIU Local 1989 (aka Maine State Employees Union) get in exchange for giving up the “agency fees” requirement?

Two annual pay increases of only 3% per year for its members (roughly 9,000 state workers).

What’s happened since then?

Four months after inking this horrible deal, the president of SEIU Local 1989 told the Portland Press Herald that “it is losing 'hundreds of thousands of dollars' under the new provision.” (Betty Adams, “Public-sector union sheds jobs after contract drops mandatory dues,” Portland Press Herald, January 9, 2018.)

Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Ramona Welton, president of the MSEA, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, as well as a unit member, did not have the exact amount of the drop in income but estimated it was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“It’s a big number,” she said Tuesday, adding that the loss directly affects the local unit itself and indirectly affects its affiliate organizations.

How much financial support does the union stand to lose?

In 2016, more than a quarter of Local 1989’s possible members opted to be agency fee-payers, according to figures from the US Department of Labor.

Due to Local 1989's bad deal, these 2,500 workers and others can now stop making any financial contributions whatsoever to the union... even though the union and all of its stewards are still required to represent them and bargain for them.

This is the scheme that right-wing governors and Republican-appointed judges are trying to impose on workers across the nation. Their goal is to weaken unions so they can drive down workers’ wages, benefits, and working conditions... and boost corporate profits.

Who would have thought that an SEIU union would help them with their plan?

Friday, March 16, 2018

Big Tech’s Purple Cheerleaders

SEIU’s Andy Stern and David “Mini Me” Rolf are facing more criticism for partnering with Uber executives.

Jay Youngdahl -- a civil rights attorney and journalist -- says Rolf and Stern have become “cheerleaders” and “circus barkers” for Uber and other tech firms pushing poverty jobs on millions of US workers. 

The companies, says Youngdahl, use “an 18th-century business model dressed up for the 21st century.” (Jay Youngdahl, “Poverty's 'Progressive' Cheerleaders,” East Bay Express, March 14, 2018.)

Even as Rolf and Stern appear to be hypnotized by the glare of their iPhones and the tech companies’ vast wealth, Youngdahl reminds us of the story of drivers like Douglas Schifter.

Last month, Schifter -- who worked for 30 years as a livery driver in New York -- shot himself to death in front of New York City Hall to protest the economic ruin brought on by Uber, Lyft and other companies. According to the New York Times, Schifter…
was now sometimes forced to work more than 100 hours a week to survive… He had lost his health insurance and accrued credit card debt… preferring, he said, to die in hope that his sacrifice would draw attention to what drivers, too often unable to feed their families now, were enduring.

(Ginia Bellafante, “A Driver’s Suicide Reveals the Dark Side of the Gig Economy,” New York Times, February 6, 2018.)

Here’s a recent segment from Democracy Now about Schifter and the impact of Uber and Lyft on drivers.

Youngdahl writes:
[H]onest analyses show that profits for gig economy companies come from not paying for employee health care, pension, and paid leave, as well as foregoing outlay for governmental safety net benefits such as social security, workers' compensation, and unemployment insurance.
To protect their cash flow and flawed business model, these new economy capitalists have assembled a group of "progressive" circus barkers to shape public opinion so the companies can continue, as one driver leader recently wrote, an 18th-century business model dressed up for the 21st century.
Schifter's post on Facebook at the end of his life
Led by former Obama and Clinton strategists, think tanks desperate for operating revenue, foundation-financed nonprofits, and a few past and present Service Employee International Union officials with wealthy benefactors, these companies have constructed a marketing campaign that puts Mad Men to shame. The cast of characters, preaching a rosy "Future of Work," appear in media outlets throughout the land. They have been described as a progressive "Brain Trust," by New Yorker writer Nathan Heller.
Apparently terrified of worker power and solidarity, they oppose traditional unionization and extol company-controlled worker organizations. They promise pie-in-the-sky future benefits and "freedom" and "flexibility." But they're unwilling to face what life is like today for these workers. The "freedom" they're extolling is, as Janis Joplin sang, "just another word for nothin' left to lose."

At least one official inside SEIU is critical of Rolf’s and Stern’s handiwork in support of Uber, the $48 billion startup. In additional comments, Hector Figueroa, the President of SEIU 32BJ in New York, told BuzzFeed:
This isn't just a matter of Washington state. Washington is opening the door for something we believe is harmful for workers. So we’re going to oppose it, even though a sister union is actively involved.

(Caroline O'Donovan, “Uber’s Latest Concession to Drivers Could Spell Trouble for Gig Workers,” BuzzFeed News, January 26, 2018.)

One day after Rolf recently co-signed a letter with Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and a venture capitalist, Figueroa posted a statement on his union’s website that says in part:
“We… we don’t support the plans being pushed by Uber and other companies to classify workers as independent just to avoid the responsibilities that employers have to their employees under labor law. All workers, whether they are considered employees or self-employed, should have meaningful health and retirement benefits, paid leave and sick days and enough income to support themselves and their families. They should also have the right to bargain collectively with their employers... We are deeply suspect of Uber’s intentions given their track record of misclassifying, underpaying, harassing and exploiting workers and opposing worker organization and we will judge them and others by their actions, not their words.”

Figueroa and Rolf both serve on SEIU’s International Executive Board.

Friday, March 9, 2018

SEIU-UHW’s Dave Regan Stashes $50M While Boosting Dues on Workers

Should Dave Regan quit his job at SEIU-UHW and apply for work at Citibank?

It sure seems like it’d be a better fit.

Regan -- instead of helping workers build power at their worksites -- has stockpiled more than $50 million in cash, poured $20-$30 million into ballot initiatives, and paid sky-high salaries to himself and other union staffers.

Workers at one California hospital recently got a reminder of Regan’s “innovative” vision for the labor movement. 

Regan sent a letter to their homes (see below) detailing SEIU-UHW’s maximum dues rate:  $164 a month!

Does Regan really need more money?

At the end of 2016, SEIU-UHW had stockpiled $52.4 million in cash, according to SEIU-UHW’s annual report to the US Department Labor (DOL Form LM-2). 

And that’s after SEIU-UHW spent $20-$30 million on a boodle of failed ballot initiatives.

Meanwhile, SEIU-UHW members frequently complain they can’t find union staffers to deal with basic on-the-job problems.

Looks like Dave is more interested in “cash bundle” than “class struggle.”

Here’s a copy of SEIU-UHW’s letter, which describes the union’s $164 per month maximum dues rate in the second paragraph.

Friday, March 2, 2018

33,000 Teachers and School Staff Wage Wildcat Strike in W.Va.: “We're not gonna take it anymore!”

In case you’re not following it, check out the inspiring wildcat strike by 33,000 teachers and support staff in West Virginia. It’s one of the biggest strikes in the US in recent years.

The strike -- which began with walkouts in seven counties -- soon covered all of the state’s 55 counties. And it’s now in its seventh day.

Earlier this week, educators refused to go back to work after union leaders reached a “deal” with Gov. James Justice to boost their pay and establish a “task force” to look into their health insurance.

Even though union leaders told them to go back to work, teachers said “No way” …and remain on strike. They’ll go back to work once their health insurance is fixed, say teachers. For years, state officials have been piling more and more costs -- and an intrusive wellness program -- onto their backs.

Check out this interesting interview with a rank-and-file leader who describes how teachers are organizing themselves in each school and county. And how they won support from students, parents and communities across the state.

(Eric Blanc, “The Strike Is On: And Interview with Jay O’Neal,” Jacobin Magazine, Marsh 1, 2018.)
Gov. James Justice
Their strike has featured a rally of 10,000 people in front of the state capitol, takeovers of the state capitol, rallies across the state, and lots of public support for the strikers.

After Governor Justice called the teachers “Dumb bunnies,” educators began sporting bunny ears.

“We come from an area that is known for standing up for what they believe in,” said Katie Endicott, a high school English teacher from Gilbert, WV, in an interview with the New York Times. “The union wars, they originated in the south in Mingo County. We believe we are following in their footsteps. We believe the movement was started years ago through the mine workers. We’re just reviving the movement that was started years ago.

Here’s an article in Jacobin Magazine that gives more background. (Cathy Kunkel, “Saving West Virginia,” Jacobin Magazine, February 27, 2018.) 

And here's a quick video from inside the state capitol: "We'nore not gonna take it anymore!"

Friday, February 23, 2018

SEIU’s David Rolf Joins Andy Stern in Pimping for Uber

Andy Stern and Andy's "Mini-Me" David Rolf

Remember when SEIU President Emeritus Andy Stern began working as a consultant for Airbnb, Handy, and other tech firms to help them try to undermine gig-economy workers’ right to be treated as regular employees?

Well, another SEIU official is now following “Handy” Andy’s lead.

Last month, SEIU Local 775 President David Rolf (a.k.a. Andy Stern’s “Mini-Me”) signed an open letter with Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer. 

The letter calls on “business, labor and government in Washington state to join us” in an effort to push state legislation that reportedly would consign gig workers to a second-class status as independent contractors without the right to overtime pay, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, Social Security, meal and rest breaks, etc.

For years, Uber drivers and other gig-economy workers have been fighting to force tech companies to treat them as regular employees. They’ve filed class-action action lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in back pay. And in Seattle, Uber drivers and Teamsters Local 117 successfully passed a law allowing Uber drivers to unionize.

Uber executives have been aggressively fighting workers’ organizing efforts in the courts as well as by launching an anti-union campaign in Seattle consisting of TV ads, online ads, text and e-mail blasts to drivers, anti-union meetings, and even an anti-union podcast.

And, in case workers are successful, Uber is also trying to do an end-run around workers’ efforts by trying to pass state laws that would permanently legislate gig workers into “independent contractor” status and create a second tier of so-called “portable benefits” for them.

That’s where Stern and Rolf come into the story.

In 2016, the tech companies hired Andy Stern as a lobbyist to help them try to pass such a bill in the New York legislature. Fortunately, that effort stalled due to opposition.

Following their failure in New York, the tech companies are now trying their luck in Washington State… with the help of David Rolf and Andy Stern. According to Uber’s website:
Last year, Uber approached David Rolf with SEIU 775 and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer about working together on the creation of a portable benefits system in Washington state… Following several productive discussions, we developed a joint letter calling on business, labor, and government to work together to address this important problem.

On January 23, 2018, Uber published a letter signed by Uber’s CEO, SEIU’s Rolf, and the venture capitalist. At the top of the letter is Uber’s logo alongside SEIU’s.

So, how are people responding to Rolf’s so-called “innovative” deal with Uber?

Here’s a sample, according to Bloomberg. (Josh Eidelson, “Uber-Union Proposal on Benefits Met With Skepticism From Labor,” Bloomberg, January 25, 2018).

New York Taxi Workers Alliance Director Bhairavi Desai told Bloomberg: “Selling out to the bosses is not innovative—it’s as old as capitalism."

Desai continued: “This type of bogus agreement only gives them [tech companies] cover for exploitation.”

Damn right!

In fact, Rolf has even been criticized by an official inside his own union, according to Bloomberg:
“This is just a facelift by Uber to be able to look like they actually care about the people who they hire for the services they provide,” said Hector Figueroa, who is president of SEIU’s East Coast property services affiliate and serves with Rolf on the international union’s executive board. “I just cannot comprehend how today, as a labor leader, I would be encouraging the spread of ‘independent’ work.”

Interesting, right?

Why is Rolf’s help so important to Uber?

First, Rolf’s union is one of the largest in Washington state and he's developed lots of relationships with politicians. If Uber is successful in passing its legislation in one state, it can then push similar legislation nationally, says Bloomberg’s Eidelson.
Uber hopes working with Rolf and Hanauer to pass legislation in Washington will change the national conversation on these issues, showing how benefits can be decoupled from traditional employee-employer status, and opening a less adversarial phase in the debate over how laws should treat gig-economy workers, a spokesperson said.
The trio, and whichever additional allies they can muster, will try to get a first-of-its-kind system passed into law in Washington state, which is Rolf and Hanauer’s home as well as one of the few places where Democrats have unified control of government and legislation on the issue is already being debated.
While the letter is light on details, the spokesperson said Uber wants to gather additional stakeholders and formulate a proposal that could be introduced in next year’s legislative session. Among the things a bill should do, the spokesperson said, is make clear that workers like Uber drivers are not employees.

Uber drivers protesting low pay
Meanwhile, Stern is working other channels to help Uber and tech companies permanently relegate their workers to independent-contractor status.

In December 2016, Stern co-authored a proposal with Eli Lehrer (President of the right-wing “R Street Institute” in Washington DC) calling on the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress and White House to grant “waivers” to states to allow them to escape the requirements of federal labor laws. The waivers would be a boon to tech companies, which Stern calls “sharing-economy companies” with “innovative business models.”

Stern, a master of deception and disinformation, entitled his proposal: “How to Modernize Labor Law.”

Does SEIU have no shame?

Friday, February 16, 2018

Dave Regan's Chickens Come Home to Roost for 15,000 SEIU-UHW Members at Dignity Health

In another sign of trouble, SEIU-UHW is reportedly facing demands for takeaways from Dignity Health during contract negotiations that began last month. The current contract, which is set to expire April 30, covers 15,000 workers and is SEIU-UHW’s second largest contract after Kaiser Permanente.

According to SEIU-UHW, Dignity wants to eliminate SEIU-UHW members’ access to fully employer-paid family health insurance, which has been a standard benefit at unionized California hospitals since the 1970s. Instead, management wants SEIU-UHW members to pay $125 per month to get health insurance for a spouse, and $175 per month for a spouse and children. Only “employee-only” coverage would be free to workers.

The demands spell trouble for Dave Regan.

SEIU-UHW members are already reportedly facing takeaways from Kaiser, which is the union’s largest employer. According to Regan, Kaiser wants 10%-20% cuts to the wage scales for future hires in California’s Central Valley, stretching from Sacramento to Fresno. Kaiser says it hasn’t begun negotiations with SEIU-UHW and has not yet put any proposals on the table.

So... in 2018, Regan will be in defensive bargaining covering more than 70% of the union’s membership even though both Kaiser and Dignity are flush with profits.

What’s going on?

The two companies apparently see Regan as vulnerable.

And Regan is vulnerable. But he can only blame himself for SEIU-UHW’s current problems. Why?

Because he laid the groundwork for the cuts by negotiating similar benefit cuts and wage freezes with other hospital companies. “We want the same cuts you gave to the other companies,” the execs at Dignity and Kaiser seemed to be telling Regan.

Soon after parachuting into California in 2009, Regan quickly began slashing workers’ long-established contract standards. Alameda Hospital was the first hospital where Regan agreed to eliminate SEIU-UHW members’ fully employer-paid family health benefits. Instead of paying $0 for family health coverage, Regan required SEIU-UHW members to pay $170 per month to get coverage for their children. Once the ink was dry on Dave’s signature at the bottom of the contract, Alameda Hospital executive Kerry Easthope told the San Jose Mercury News that Regan’s cuts were “a groundbreaking concession.” (Michele Ellso, “Alameda Hospital employees to get pay raise,“ San Jose Mercury News, 04/30/2009)

Next, Regan negotiated similar cuts to health insurance with entire hospital chains like the Daughters of Charity Healthcare System. In 2012, Regan used ramrod ratification votes to force massive concessions down the throats of thousands of thousands of Daughters of Charity workers. Regan tossed their fully employer-paid family health coverage in the trash can. Instead, SEIU-UHW members were forced to pay 25% of the monthly health insurance premiums -- or hundreds of dollars a month.

Regan also eliminated workers’ defined-benefit pension plan (he replaced it with a 401k plan), implemented an invasive corporate wellness program, and allowed the company to double workers’ out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions, doctors visits and other healthcare procedures.

At Dignity, Regan agreed to eliminate workers’ defined-benefit pension plan and accepted wage freezes for 15,000 SEIU-UHW members... even though the company was making profits.

So… is it a shocker that Kaiser and Dignity are now coming to Regan for more cuts?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

SEIU-UHW’s Dave Regan Withdraws Ballot Initiative Targeting Kaiser Permanente

As Tasty’s internal sources predicted, Dave Regan has withdrawn his California ballot initiative targeting Kaiser Permanente, according to an e-mail distributed today by Kaiser executives to employees.

The e-mail, sent by Kaiser’s Chief Human Resources Officer Chuck Columbus, states:
We wanted to let you know that the leadership of SEIU-UHW has notified Kaiser Permanente that the union has withdrawn its proposed ballot initiative that would have affected Kaiser Permanente if it became law.
We acknowledge the union’s decision to set aside the ballot initiative. There is more work to be done in reaffirming our Labor Management Partnership, and recommitting to our core principles of partnership, and that work is underway.

One day before the announcement, Regan launched a hastily choreographed maneuver aimed at trying to convince SEIU-UHW’s members that he’s not weak and isn’t in fact scurrying away from a fight with Kaiser with his tail between his legs. 

With much chest-pumping, Regan yesterday announced that SEIU-UHW will hold “protests” at 32 Kaiser hospitals between February 14 and March 9. It’s unclear what the “protests” will be.

What’s behind Regan’s “protest” announcement?

Since last summer, Regan has been telling SEIU-UHW members that his ballot initiative is the secret weapon that’ll prevent Kaiser from implementing cuts to SEIU-UHW members’ wage scales for future hires in California’s Central Valley. Now that Regan is dropping the ballot initiative, workers will inevitably ask: “Did Dave just cave into the boss? Did he just throw us under the bus? If we no longer have a ballot initiative, then what’s the plan?”

Will workers actually buy Regan’s damage-control maneuver? It remains to be seen.

Better yet… does Regan actually have a “Plan B” to confront Kaiser’s demand for wage cuts?

Lastly, will Regan ever have a successful ballot initiative... which he's spent tens of millions of union members' dues money on, according to Politico?

What's next?

It appears that Regan wants to rejoin the partnership unions’ 2018 national bargaining process, which is scheduled to begin next month. However, Regan and SEIU-UHW’s members will join the negotiations with a much diminished stature after Regan torched relationships with other partnership unions and burned a bunch of bridges with his former pals at Kaiser. For example, for months Regan has demanded that the other partnership unions allow him to take control of the national bargaining, which was strongly resisted by the unions.

Here’s a copy of the e-mail sent today by Kaiser’s Chuck Columbus: