Thursday, March 28, 2013

Appeals Court Ruling on 2010 Lawsuit between SEIU and NUHW Details Differences between Bottom-Up and Top-Down Unionism

Ever heard the phrase “perversion of justice”?

Well, a few ‘perverters of justice’ just released a terrible court decision in California that undermines union democracy.

The whole thing dates back to SEIU’s trusteeship of SEIU-UHW in 2009. Soon after SEIU parachuted into California and imposed martial law on healthcare workers, SEIU sued Sal Rosselli and the local’s other former leaders, who by that time had joined NUHW.

What was the basis of SEIU’s lawsuit?

SEIU claimed these former leaders “breached their fiduciary duty” to SEIU by resisting Andy Stern’s orders on two pivotal issues. First, Stern had ordered the local’s leaders to give Purple Palace officials in Washington, D.C. the authority to bargain directly with Kaiser Permanente and other California companies in order to change workers’ contracts -- even without allowing workers to sit at the bargaining table!

Secondly, Stern ordered the local’s leaders to transfer 65,000 nursing home and homecare members to Tyrone Freeman’s union in Los Angeles… where Freeman was busy stealing suitcases of money from the union’s low-wage members.  
SEIU's Andy Stern

Rosselli and the union’s entire 100-member Executive Board insisted on workers’ right to control their bargaining and to determine their future through democratic votes. They challenged Stern to let the 65,000 workers vote on whether they wanted to switch unions. In fact, they even invited Stern to put his sorry ass on a plane and fly out to California so he could make his best arguments to workers before they voted.

SEIU’s response? “NO.” And next… SEIU imposed its trusteeship.

Here’s where this week’s court decision comes into play. During the original court case in 2010, SEIU argued that Rosselli and Co. had a primary “duty of loyalty” to SEIU’s Purple Palace in DC… meaning they had no right to resist orders from Washington, DC. Meanwhile, Rosselli and others told the court that their biggest responsibility was to the rank-and-file workers who elected them to office and who paid their salaries. In fact, this duty was written into the local union’s constitution.

During the original court case, the judge sided with SEIU and told the jury that a local union is like a branch office of Wells Fargo and that local leaders have to follow whatever the corporate headquarters says.

In another controversial decision, the judge refused to allow Rosselli or anyone else to even speak about Tyrone Freeman, his massive corruption, and the endless reasons why workers weren’t too thrilled about being transferred like so many cattle. The judge’s wrong-headed rulings on these issues were the reasons why NUHW’s leaders appealed the results of the original court case.

This week, a panel of three judges ruled on their appeal, and decided to rubberstamp the court’s original decision.

Obviously, it’s a horrible decision… but it comes as no surprise in this era of “Citizens United,” where the courts protect corporations over people.  

SEIU's Tyrone Freeman and David Holway
But if ever there was a compelling case about union democracy, it was this one! After all, SEIU ordered the transfer of 65,000 workers to Tyrone Freeman, who was convicted on 14 criminal counts of stealing more than a million dollars from the union’s low-wage members. Freeman is now facing a possible maximum sentence of 200 years in jail.

Also, SEIU never ever transferred the 65,000 workers -- the precise order that’s the basis of SEIU’s lawsuit against Rosselli and others. To be clear: more than four years have passed since SEIU’s trusteeship, but SEIU has still not transferred the 65,000 workers.  

You can see why Tasty says this is a terrible decision.

A word of caution to Kaiser workers. Tasty hears that SEIU is trying to use this week’s appeals decision as an opportunity to tell more purple lies in the run-up to next month’s election -- like that NUHW’s leaders somehow “stole” money, which is totally untrue.

So why did the court's 2010 decision come with a dollar judgment against the local’s former leaders? The court ordered 16 former leaders to pay back the salaries of the union’s entire staff for a period of several weeks when the staff were educating the union’s 150,000 members about their Executive Board’s unanimous decision to resist King Andy’s undemocratic order. That’s where the dollar judgment comes from.

Although this week’s ruling is disappointing, it makes even clearer the sharp differences between SEIU and NUHW… and their competing philosophies of “corporate unionism” vs. “bottom-up, democratic unionism.”

SEIU, even in front of a jury and judge, fully embraces a style of corporate unionism that treats local unions like branches of Wells Fargo and that handle workers like so many cattle.

NUHW’s approach is the opposite, as made clear by its leaders’ principled stand against SEIU’s ridiculously undemocratic orders (even at leaders' own personal risk) and NUHW’s constitution -- which ensures workers’ control over every aspect of their union and prohibits union officers from earning more than the union’s members.

Finally, here’s a short video of NUHW’s Sal Rosselli discussing the original court case.