Sunday, October 21, 2012

Workers in Rhode Island Bolt SEIU

Last week, food service workers at Brown University became the latest group to abandon the purple ship.

In Providence, Rhode Island, approximately 200 workers voted to decertify SEIU Local 615 and to join an independent union called the United Service and Allied Workers of Rhode Island (USAW-RI). During previous NLRB elections at the university, a super-majority of the workers voted to leave SEIU. 

So why are Rhode Island's workers leaving SEIU?

It's a story that’ll be very familiar to California's healthcare workers. Here’s what a food service worker told the Brown Daily Herald after the recent NLRB election:

Gloria Fraielli, a first cook who works in Dining Services, approached McAninch with a series of complaints about the SEIU during the summer. Fraielli told The Herald that many of the workers were dissatisfied with the lack of SEIU representatives present on campus to hear their concerns.

“They have a local office here, but there is never anybody there in the office. So if you place a call there, you would be lucky to get a call back,” she said. “We sort of got forgotten about.”

Meanwhile, workers say USAW-RI is far more effective at the bargaining table and is far more democratic and responsive to its members. Interestingly, a blogsite called “Union Librarian” describes historical parallels between USAW-RI and NUHW.  

For instance, here's how USAW-RI was formed:  In 2002, Andy Stern told the Rhode Island workers -- who were then members of SEIU Local 134 -- that the Purple Palace was going to transfer them to another SEIU local. A super-majority of the workers signed a petition opposing SEIU's heavy-handed move. SEIU's top officials, however, simply ignored the workers and imposed a trusteeship. 

Next, workers decided to form their own independent union. The Purple Palace responded by targeting the new union’s leaders with a harassing lawsuit that accused them of “breaching their fiduciary duty” to SEIU International. Sound familiar? 

So... what’s the status of workers' efforts to create their own democratic, effective union? The Rhode Island workers first established their new union in 2002-03. Today, virtually all of the former members of SEIU Local 134 have decertified SEIU and joined USAW-RI!  Plus, workers from other worksites have also voted to join USAW-RI.

It's quite a story.. and it deserves attention from California's healthcare workers!