Friday, April 22, 2016

SEIU Caught While Attempting to Ink Sweetheart Deal with Airbnb

SEIU's Stern and Henry
This week, journalists outed top SEIU officials as they tried to seal a backroom deal with Airbnb, a $25.5 billion company headquartered in San Francisco, Calif. 

By week’s end, the deal had exploded in flames after facing an “intense backlash” from housing advocates, elected officials, and unions, according to the London Guardian.

The week’s events were accompanied by jaw-dropping revelations including that SEIU President Emeritus Andy Stern is pulling down a fat paycheck as an Airbnb consultant. (Nice way to grease the wheels inside the Purple Palace, right?)

Meanwhile, it turns out that SEIU President Mary Kay Henry’s former speechwriter and Chief Communications Aide -- Christopher Nulty -- is now a corporate exec at Airbnb, where he played a role in the unsuccessful deal. This week, Nulty served as Airbnb’s main spokesperson regarding its negotiations with his former employer, SEIU.
Christopher Nulty of SEIU/Yahoo/Airbnb

(Who's Nulty? From 2010-2013, he worked inside the Purple Palace where he wrote hundreds of speeches and op-eds for Mary Kay Henry, according to his LinkedIn page. He left SEIU to work as the Senior Corporate Communications Manager for Yahoo’s CEO. Next, he jumped to Airbnb, where he serves as the Public Affairs Lead for the eastern half of North America.)

Here’s a quick sum-up of this week’s events:

On Monday, the London Guardian and the Washington Post broke the news that SEIU was trying to ink a secret deal with Airbnb. The news provoked an angry backlash from elected officials, housing organizations, and unions.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky: "I'm worth $3.3 billion."

As CNBC notes, critics say Airbnb “displaces long-term tenants as some people convert scarce rental property into essentially motels and hotels for travelers — all without paying local hotel taxes, or meeting regulations as required for the hospitality industry.” 

And as tenants are displaced and neighborhoods gentrified, Airbnb’s execs and its venture capital investors pocket billions.

Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s 34-year-old CEO, is worth $3.3 billion.

On Monday, UNITE HERE -- the union of hotel workers whose jobs are being undercut by Airbnb -- issued this statement to the press:
We are appalled by reports that SEIU is partnering with Airbnb, a company that has destroyed communities by driving up housing costs and killing good hotel jobs in urban markets across North America.
Airbnb has shown a blatant disregard for city and state laws, has refused to cooperate with government agencies, and turns a blind eye to the fact that its business model exacerbates the affordable housing crisis. A partnership with SEIU does little more than give political cover to Airbnb. It doesn’t strengthen workers, and in fact undercuts the standards we’ve fought so hard to build for housekeepers in the hospitality industry.

UNITE HERE is not SEIU’s only critic. According to the London Guardian:
The Manhattan borough president, Gale Brewer, 18 members of the New York state senate and assembly, three New York City council members and 20 local housing organizations sent a letter to the SEIU president expressing concern with the deal and requesting a meeting.
“We find it troubling that SEIU is exploring entering into an agreement with Airbnb – a company whose business model displaces the very people you are seeking to represent and protect from their homes and communities,” the letter states. “Such a partnership would lend credence to Airbnb’s illegal manipulation of the housing market, and give the worst actors … a legitimate platform to conduct their illegitimate and harmful business activities.”

Other critics took to Twitter, the media, and online petitions to attack SEIU. In a tweet, UNITE HERE called SEIU’s pact a “sweetheart deal.”

After SEIU 32BJ President Hector Figueroa tweeted support for SEIU’s backroom deal with Airbnb, UNITE HERE’s Hotel Trades Council responded with this tweet:

SEIU’s Andy Stern re-tweeted Figueroa’s message, which prompted the following hilarious tweet from the San Francisco Tenants Union: “Have you read a newspaper lately?”

SEIU’s action even spawned a hashtag (#DontSellOutSEIU), an online MoveOn petition, and a letter from the tenants' union to Mary Kay Henry and Figueroa with statements like this one (see complete letter below):
You cannot build a national movement to improve working conditions for low-wage workers by engaging in backroom deals with a law-flouting corporation and selling out your natural allies.

On Tuesday, SEIU and UNITE HERE met in Las Vegas “to resolve escalating tensions,” according to Politico. After the meeting, SEIU pulled the plug on its sweetheart deal with Airbnb.

UNITE HERE issued this statement:
Earlier this week, we had a productive meeting with SEIU representatives, and it is our clear understanding that SEIU will not have a deal with Airbnb to represent housekeeping services. We will continue to work with SEIU to ensure that workers across the hospitality industry have opportunities to have a voice at work and provide for their families. We are encouraged by their commitment to stand with us and coalition partners to advocate for affordable housing initiatives and better jobs in cities across North America. Unite Here will continue to vigorously oppose any efforts by Airbnb to expand and push for commonsense laws to mitigate the devastating impact this company has had on our communities.

Yesterday (April 21), SEIU issued a statement that read:
Tuesday, representatives from SEIU and Unite Here met and have agreed to find a common approach to protect and expand the stock of affordable housing in all communities across the country and to protect and preserve standards for workers in residential and hotel cleaning while also growing opportunities for these cleaners to improve their lives.

So what was Airbnb’s motive for cutting a deal with SEIU?

Just like Andy Stern’s embrace of Wal-Mart in 2007, an SEIU partnership with Airbnb would have helped Airbnb weather the political headwinds that are hindering its expansion across the nation. 

Here’s how the Washington Post describes it:
The deal would give San Francisco-based Airbnb, which has raised $2.3 billion and is privately valued at $25.5 billion by venture capitalists, new ammunition for its myriad political battles. In cities across the country, opponents of Airbnb have argued that the 8-year-old start-up is accelerating gentrification by reducing the supply of available housing units that would otherwise go to locals if they weren’t being rented out on Airbnb.
The agreement with SEIU allows the company to make the claim that it is creating good jobs for local residents. That’s one prong in a wider strategy to endear itself to local governments.
Earlier this year, the company’s policy chief, a former Bill Clinton aide named Chris Lehane, met with hundreds of mayors at the U.S. Conference of Mayors to make the argument that cities benefit from Airbnb homeowners’ tax contributions.

Finally, here’s a question that's still unanswered:

How much money is Andy Stern pocketing in exchange for pimping for Airbnb?

According to journalists, SEIU spokesperson Sahar Wali has declined to comment.