Friday, December 29, 2017

SEIU Members Sue Purple Palace as Independent Union Pushes for Decertification Elections

In mid-December, more than a dozen members of SEIU Local 73 sued SEIU President Mary Kay Henry in Chicago federal court in an effort to return their union to local governance through democratic elections.  Seventeen months ago, Henry imposed a trusteeship on Local 73, removing the union’s officers and board and appointing Eliseo Medina, Dian Palmer (president of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin) and Denise Poloyac (Director of SEIU’s Property Services Division) to run the union as trustees.

In another interesting development, Matthew Brandon – Local 73’s former Secretary-Treasurer who was removed from office by Henry’s trusteeship – has launched an independent union that’s actively organizing elections to decertify SEIU, according to readers. Brandon’s new union has been moving towards elections at various units, including Cook County’s hospital maintenance department and the City of Chicago’s building maintenance department, say readers.

SEIU International has reportedly sent 15 staffers to Chicago to fight these decertification efforts. A reader reports that SEIU’s trustees at Local 73 recently fielded a phone call from Mary Kay Henry and Andy Stern regarding the challenge presented by Matt Brandon’s independent union.

The federal lawsuit, filed on December 14, asks the court to declare the trusteeship void as of February 3, 2018. It cites the 1959 Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, which mandates that such trusteeships expire in 18 months. The plaintiffs want their union to conduct elections to choose its officers and board members prior to February.

The lawsuit reads:
Specifically, plaintiffs are seeking a Court Order requiring that the democratic process be upheld in that the current Trusteeship should terminate as mandated on February 3, 2018, that the SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, LOCAL #73, be restored to self-governance, that the process to hold elections be commenced immediately, and that this Honorable Court mandate that the Department of Labor oversee these elections to ensure non-biased, fair, impartial, Constitutional and democratic processes be maintained throughout.

According to the lawsuit and readers’ reports, SEIU’s trustees have log-jammed members’ requests to hold local elections. On September 23, the trustees held a general membership meeting and some workers showed up wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words “The time to vote is now.” A motion for local elections was made and seconded from the floor, but the lawsuit says Trustee Denise Poloyac rejected the motion and said the session was not a “general membership meeting.”

The next general membership meeting was scheduled for December 16. Here’s what happened, according to the lawsuit:
The general membership meeting scheduled for December 16, 2017 was cancelled unilaterally without cause by Trustee Poloyac, and this was communicated to the members via an email from Martha Gallegos, the Office and Special Project Manager for Local #73 sent on December 12, 2017.

Just two days after the trustees announced the cancellation of the meeting, thirteen union members filed their suit in Chicago federal court. The suit alleges:
Defendants have failed and refused to schedule a membership meeting of Local 73, have failed to seek nominations for a ballot and have generally failed to comply with the election procedures necessary in order to return control of Local 73 to its members following the February 3, 2018 termination of the Trusteeship.

Below is a copy of the lawsuit, which includes a copy of the e-mail sent by Martha Gallegos canceling the union’s general membership meeting on December 16.

For press coverage, see this article: Scott Holland, “SEIU Local 73 members ask judge to order national union to order local elections, restore local control,” Cook County Record, December 15, 2017.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Dave Regan’s Ballot Initiative Knocks SEIU-UHW out of Kaiser Partnership

Here’s some interesting news from California.

Kaiser Permanente has blocked SEIU-UHW from participating in upcoming bargaining with its “partnership” unions after SEIU-UHW’s Dave Regan filed a statewide ballot initiative targeting Kaiser, according to an internal memo issued by Kaiser executives last week. A copy of the memo along with the ballot initiative is below.

What’s going on?

Here’s what Tasty has learned so far.

Apparently, Regan has become increasingly marginalized by Kaiser’s execs and by the other “partnership” unions in the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions (the “Coalition”). The Coalition, which is made up of 28 unions representing 100,000 Kaiser workers across the US, bargains a national contract with Kaiser once every three years.

In late 2015, Regan sued Greg Adams, a top Kaiser exec, who served on the board of the California Hospital Association (CHA) and was caught up in Regan’s failed ballot initiative targeting the CHA.

Then, in August of 2017, Regan reportedly pissed off the other partnership unions when he tried to change the Coalition’s bylaws in order to give SEIU-UHW virtually all of the power to call the shots during the next round of national bargaining, which begins early next year. Other unions, including AFSCME, rejected Regan’s proposal, which sparked a shouting match during a three-day meeting of the partnership unions in Portland, Oregon.

Apparently, Regan has burnt turf not only with AFSCME but with SEIU locals in both Oregon and Colorado, including his erstwhile buddy Meg Niemi.

And another source reports that Regan no longer has the support of Hal Ruddick, the Executive Director of the Coalition. Ruddick is a former hack staffer at SEIU-UHW whom Regan got appointed to his position at the Coalition. Later, Regan reportedly attempted to have Ruddick fired, but was unsuccessful -- which hasn’t made Regan super popular at the Coalition’s offices.

After failing to convince the partnership unions to give him more power, Regan asked Kaiser’s execs for their help. In an internal memo issued last week, Kaiser's Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Chuck Columbus wrote:
…for months now, SEIU-UHW’s leadership has insisted in private meetings that Kaiser Permanente management negotiate with SEIU-UHW as the sole representative of the Coalition in upcoming National Bargaining. In these meetings, SEIU-UHW’s leadership has threatened that if we refused their demands, they would put an initiative on the California ballot that would adversely affect Kaiser Permanente… We said no to SEIU-UHW leadership’s demand.

Meanwhile, Kaiser reportedly has told Regan it plans to propose cuts to SEIU-UHW members’ wage structure in Northern California.

Currently, SEIU-UHW’s members from San Francisco to Sacramento to Fresno are covered by a single pay scale.
Regan and Kaiser Senior VP Chuck Columbus
Kaiser’s execs told Regan they will propose cuts such that future SEIU-UHW hires in Sacramento would earn 10% less than those in the San Francisco Bay Area, while new hires in Fresno would earn 20% less than the Bay Area.

Regan, seeing takeaways on the table and little power inside the CKPU or with Kaiser’s execs, decided to turn to his old stand-by tactic of a statewide ballot initiative. On November 16, he filed an initiative with the California Attorney General (“Accountability in Managed Health Insurance Act”) which would prohibit Kaiser from raising its monthly insurance rates until Kaiser’s capital reserves drop below a certain level.

Kaiser’s response?

Kaiser removed SEIU-UHW from next year’s partnership bargaining, saying Regan’s ballot initiative violates the terms of its partnership deal with SEIU-UHW. Kaiser’s memo says:
In sponsoring this destructive initiative, SEIU-UHW leadership has violated both the spirit and the actual terms of the agreements that set up our valued Labor Management Partnership. Accordingly, we today have informed the leadership of SEIU-UHW that we are withdrawing certain privileges of Partnership from SEIU-UHW due to the union’s outrageous conduct. Among the privileges we have withdrawn is participation of SEIU-UHW in 2018 National Bargaining. 

Kaiser’s memo then takes a shot at Regan and his ballot initiatives:
Over the past few years, SEIU-UHW leadership has used the initiative process to force concessions from various employers. All these efforts have failed. If SEIU-UHW goes ahead with spending the millions of dollars it will take to get this initiative on the ballot, we are confident that once California voters understand the impact on Kaiser Permanente, they will join us to defeat this measure in November.

These developments are quite a turnaround for Regan, who has prided himself on being Kaiser execs’ lapdog.

For example, in 2012 Regan convinced the partnership unions to adopt an invasive corporate wellness program that allows Kaiser to peer inside workers’ bodies and collect blood samples and other “biometric data” so Kaiser can monitor workers’ weight, blood pressure, smoking rate, cholesterol levels and personal lives.

In another episode, Regan directed SEIU-UHW staffers (including Greg Maron and Jared Mayhugh) to work as strikebreakers alongside Kaiser managers to stop SEIU-UHW members from joining strikes by NUHW and the California Nurses Association (CNA) at Kaiser.

And then there are Regan’s famous “wellness walks.” Instead of picket signs and picket lines, Regan gave purple pedometers to SEIU-UHW members and told them to lose weight so as to reduce Kaiser’s health insurance costs.

Regan quickly became known as Kaiser’s Richard Simmons.

If Regan has been such a loyal lapdog to Kaiser’s execs, why is Kaiser now seeking takeaways from Regan?

One observer put it this way: “Because they can.” This observer points to Regan’s failure to build a rank-and-file organization inside Kaiser facilities that can fight takeaways.

A similar explanation comes from RoseAnn DeMoro, the Executive Director of the CNA. At a rally several years ago when Regan was in the throes of his lovefest with California hospital execs, DeMoro predicted that the execs would eventually kick Regan to the curb. “These corporations will treat Regan like they do every class traitor. They’ll toss him aside once he’s no longer useful to them.” (Tasty is paraphrasing DeMoro here.)

The fact that Kaiser is coming after Regan for wage cuts in Northern California is quite a stunning historical reversal.

In the late 1980s, Kaiser unilaterally imposed a similar multi-tiered wage structure across Northern California, which Kaiser workers tried to overturn by waging a seven-week strike. Afterwards, Sal Rosselli was elected president of the union and, during the next 15 years, he and his team dramatically expanded and strengthened the union and successfully eliminated Kaiser’s multi-tiered wage structure in 2005. In fact, Rosselli went even further, negotiating improvements to Southern California Kaiser workers’ wage structures to help close the wage gap with their Northern California co-workers. (Kaiser’s Southern California workers earn substantially less than those in Northern California.)

Since parachuting into California in 2009, Regan has taken no steps whatsoever to address the lower wage rates paid to SEIU-UHW members at Kaiser’s Southern California facilities. And he’s now facing a push by Kaiser execs to re-impose the multi-tiered wage structure that Rosselli successfully eliminated back in 2005.
In other words, Regan is poised to possibly deliver a massive failure to tens of thousands of Kaiser workers.

What’s next?
Hal Ruddick, the Coalition's Executive Director
The Coalition unions have been conducting surveys and electing bargaining committees to participate in national bargaining, which begins early next year. SEIU-UHW, of course, will be on the sidelines. It won’t bargain with Kaiser until 2019, when its “local union agreement” with Kaiser expires on September 30, 2019.

As far as Regan’s ballot initiative, once it’s cleared by the California Attorney General, SEIU-UHW will need to spend millions of dollars to collect enough voter signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2018 ballot.

By the way, Regan also has filed at least nine other ballot initiatives for the November 2018 ballot, which target Stanford Health Care, DaVita Inc., Watsonville Community Hospital, and Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center. Regan’s increasing reliance on ballot initiatives raises an interesting question about whether his corporate targets will band together to try to block his use of ballot initiatives as bargaining leverage, as an earlier piece of California legislation appeared to do.

What do Kaiser workers say about Regan’s ballot initiative?

According to Tasty’s contacts, workers had no idea their union’s president had even filed a ballot initiative until Kaiser officials sent them the memo below.

It’s another symptom of Regan’s so-called “innovative 21st century unionism,” which relies on hiring lawyers to file ballot initiatives rather than organizing workers to build workplace power.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Head of SEIU 1199 in Massachusetts Is Suspended over “inappropriate conduct”

Tyrék D. Lee Sr., the top official at SEIU Local 1199 in Massachusetts, has been suspended over “inappropriate conduct,” according to the Boston Globe.

The newspaper cites unnamed “people familiar with the situation” who say Lee was suspended over “accusations of sexual harassment.” The local represents approximately 56,000 healthcare workers in Massachusetts. (Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, “Head of health care union suspended over allegations of inappropriate behavior,” Boston Globe, December 12, 2017)

Lee holds the title of “Executive Vice President” at SEIU Local 1199, where last year he earned $128,902, according to records from the US Department of Labor.
Union officials did not detail allegations against Lee, said the Globe. Here’s what SEIU Local 1199 said in a statement to the press:

“1199SEIU strongly condemns all forms of inappropriate conduct and will not tolerate such behavior by any employee of our union. Upon being made aware of these allegations 1199SEIU has taken the action of suspending Executive Vice President Tyrék Lee while a formal investigation is conducted.”

The Globe notes that “Lee took the top job at 1199SEIU in January 2016, when he was 38.”

In November, SEIU appointed SEIU Executive Vice President Leslie Frane to lead an internal investigation due to the multiple SEIU officials accused of sexual harassment and/or misconduct, including the suspension and subsequent resignation of SEIU Executive Vice President Scott Courtney.

SEIU also announced the formation of an external advisory group including Cecilia Muñoz, former White House Domestic Policy Council director; Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center; and employment attorney Debra Katz, founding partner of law firm Katz Marshall & Banks.

It’s possible Lee’s suspension was connected to the investigation by Frane’s team.

If so, this may create some nervousness over at SEIU-UHW, where staffers and members at SEIU-UHW describe a culture of bullying and sexual misconduct, including alleged affairs by the union’s president, Dave Regan. In mid-November, Marcus Hatcher, one of the union’s top officials, was fired for allegedly having simultaneous affairs with three female members of the union’s Executive Board.

Will Frane’s crew soon be knocking on Regan’s door?

Stay tuned.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Governors Debate Showcases Opposing Fortunes of Two California Unions

Here’s an interesting development that underscores the declining political power of SEIU-UHW and the rising strength of NUHW.

Readers may recall that SEIU-UHW and its president, Dave Regan, have been repeatedly criticized for using California’s ballot system to cut sweetheart deals with the California Hospital Association that sell out consumers and workers. 

In local elections, Regan has joined hands with the Chamber of Commerce to attack progressive candidates.

Well... check out the latest chapter in this story.

Next year, the Golden State will elect a new governor to replace Jerry Brown, who will be termed out of office. Candidates for the governor’s office -- including the state’s Lieutenant Governor, Treasurer, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the former mayor of Los Angeles -- are criss-crossing the nation’s most populous state to build support for their campaigns.

In October, SEIU-UHW and NUHW each held their annual “Leadership Conferences” of stewards and rank-and-file leaders. 

NUHW pulled off a coup by organizing the four leading gubernatorial candidates to conduct their first-ever debate at NUHW’s leadership conference in Anaheim. Here's a link to a video of the debate.

NUHW’s debate drew reporters from across the state and got more than 100 new stories in the state’s largest newspapers, TV stations, etc. NUHW also live-streamed the debate to voters across the state, which featured questions about the candidates' support for a single-payer health system.

What about SEIU-UHW?  


Stay tuned!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Jury Awards $8.5 Million Verdict to Staffer Fired after Blowing Whistle on SEIU’s Failed Representation

Over the years, Tasty has reported on SEIU-UHW’s repeated failures to enforce its own labor contracts and defend union members against their bosses.

Remember the Kaiser worker who sued SEIU-UHW for failing to defend her against the allegedly meth-smoking manager who fired her? Or the SEIU-UHW official who simply sat on her hands while Kaiser Permanente fired a worker with 33 years on the job? Or the SEIU-UHW member from Dignity Health who sued SEIU-UHW in federal court alleging that SEIU-UHW officials failed to enforce the union’s own labor contract and instead allowed the hospital to fire her.

Well, here’s an interesting story about a similar kind of failed representation at SEIU Local 721, which represents 90,000 public-sector workers in the Los Angeles region.

On November 24, a California jury awarded an $8.5 million verdict against SEIU Local 721 for wrongfully terminating one of the union’s own staff members after he revealed to Local 721 officials a backlog of more than 600 arbitration cases that had been filed by members but weren’t being handled. He alleged that Local 721 falsified records to cover up the massive backlog.

The staffer, Talbert Mitchell, worked as the union’s “Advocacy Coordinator” and had been on staff for 21 years. According to his lawyers, after Mitchell directed an internal report revealing the massive backlog of arbitration cases and following his medical leave for a hernia surgery, Mitchell was wrongfully terminated.

The jury agreed with Mitchell, finding he was the victim of whistleblower retaliation, disability discrimination, medical leave discrimination, and wrongful termination. The jury awarded him a $2.4 million verdict and an additional $6.1 million in punitive damages.

(Don’t count the money yet, as these kinds of verdicts can shrink on appeal.)

A former member of SEIU Local 721 said the staffer’s description of failed representation is consistent with his experience. Here’s what he told Tasty in an e-mail:
Many employee grievances were mishandled (on the union side, once responsibility of the grievance handling was transferred from the steward to the Local) -- time frames were overlooked resulting in many management denials and many more were lost after they were allegedly transferred to the County's Human Resources Department for a higher level of possible adjudication called Arbitration.  Were the union staff set up for failure by being given unmanageable caseloads or did the executive staff of the Local just not care in representing it's members?  Another question for the members to consider is where does anyone think this award money, to pay Mr. Talbert Mitchell, will come from.  Why will no one at the Local 721 be charged mush less dismissed because of gross incompetence and/or administrative mismanagement?

As for Talbert Mitchell, the former Local 721 staffer, here’s what his lawyers said in a November 28 press release:
“Due to his disability, needing medical leave, and his reporting of conduct he thought was illegal and which adversely affected union member rights, he became the target of his superiors and ultimately was terminated with a fabricated story," said Carney Shegerian, Mitchell's trial lawyer. "Talbert was morally treated wrong by his employer and superiors, and today a California jury of his peers announced that treatment was not only just illegal, but punishable."

For more information about the jury verdict, here’s a news story:

Toni McAllister, “Jury awards Lynwood whistleblower $2.63 million, punished for exposing union’s wrongdoing,” City News Service, November 24, 2017.