Monday, May 11, 2015

Washington Post: SEIU Blocks UNITE HERE from Unionizing Low-Wage Workers, Then Abandons Workers

SEIU's HQ in DC: Just blocks from Senate cafeteria workers
A pair of articles in the Washington Post shines a spotlight on SEIU's campaign to block UNITE HERE from unionizing low-wage workers in Washington, DC.  

It's quite a story. 

And it's an interesting sequel to Steve Early’s recent article about similar issues in California involving SEIU-UHW, the AFL-CIO, and NUHW.

Last month, a WaPo columnist penned an article entitled, "The Homeless Man Who Works in the Senate." The column tells the story of 63-year-old Charles Gladden, a food service worker who’s worked at the U.S. Senate's cafeteria for the past eight years -- but has been homeless for the past five years due to low wages.

Gladden takes home only $360 for 40 hours of sweeping floors, mopping bathrooms, cleaning dishes, composting leftovers, and transporting laundry. At night he sleeps at the McPherson Square Metro Station just 2,000 feet from the White House.

Last week, another WaPo reporter published a follow-up story that poses an interesting question: Why are Mr. Gladden’s wages so low? Shouldn't he have a union?
Charles Gladden
It turns out that the food service workers in the cafeteria at the U.S. House of Representatives do, in fact, have a union. 

They've been members of Unite Here Local 23 for about 20 years and earn wages that have allowed some workers to buy homes, send their kids to college, etc.

So why are the conditions so horrible at the Senate cafeteria?

Here's where the story gets interesting.

It turns out that two years ago, the Senate cafeteria workers began organizing to join Unite Here. Last year, the workers were preparing to go public with their unionization effort when SEIU unfortunately got wind of their efforts. Rather than supporting the workers' campaign, says the journalist…
the Service Employees International Union sued Local 23, accusing it of violating a legal agreement the two unions had struck divvying up the city’s workplaces. Technically, public service employees were supposed to be SEIU’s turf.
“We were told we had to get out by SEIU because it was their jurisdiction,” says Local 23 President Jim Dupont. So Local 23 backed off. “It’s horrible for those workers. We have to go tell them no. They were so mad at us, and they have the right to be. It’s kind of a silly thing. There are plenty of people to organize.”

For the record, Unite Here has represented food service workers at the Smithsonian museums, the Nationals Park, other government agencies, and Washington DC's universities for many years.

So... after SEIU sued Unite Here and put an end to the workers' organizing campaign, did SEIU step up and try to improve workers' pay and benefits?


Here's what has happened during the past year, according to the journalist:
Jaime Contreras: "We just haven't gotten there yet"
SEIU has not been actively working to help the Senate cafeteria workers actually unionize.

"It’s on our radar. We just haven’t gotten there yet,” says Jaime Contreras, director of the Capital Area District for the SEIU affiliate 32BJ.

For now, that means that Senate cafeteria workers will probably stay at lower wage benefit levels than their House counterparts.

This explains why the WaPo reporter gave the following piercing title to her article: “Why House cafeteria workers are paid better than Senate cafeteria workers. Hint: It has to do with a union.”

That “union,” of course, is SEIU.