Monday, September 2, 2013

SEIU Deals Setback to Union Demcracy via Lawsuit against Dissidents

Labor journalist Steve Early has penned an interesting article about SEIU’s ongoing assault against union democracy.

No… it’s not about Dave Regan’s show trials against union members for “disloyalty.”

Instead, the article describes how SEIU’s civil lawsuit against NUHW’s founders has rewritten federal case law so as to strengthen the Purple Palace’s top-down control over union members.

The legal ruling stems from SEIU’s disastrous trusteeship of SEIU-UHW. Back in 2009, SEIU’s head honchos in Washington, DC ordered UHW to transfer 65,000 of its members to a corrupt union headed by Tyrone Freeman, who was later convicted of 11 criminal counts.

In January of 2009, SEIU seized control of UHW and sued its leaders after UHW’s 100-member Executive Board voted unanimously to oppose the transfer unless the affected union members were first given a right to vote on the transfer.

Here’s where SEIU’s harmful legal precedent comes in.

In court, UHW’s former leaders -- who subsequently helped create NUHW -- said they acted properly because they simply followed the explicit directions of their union’s members, who overwhelmingly opposed the undemocratic transfer. The former leaders argued that their first responsibility was to the local members who elected them to office, served on the union’s 100-member Executive Board, created UHW’s constitution, and paid their salaries.

The Purple Palace argued the opposite… basically saying, “Screw the members. We call the shots!” SEIU claimed that local union leaders’ primary responsibility is to SEIU’s headquarters in D.C. -- some 3,000 miles away! Here’s how Early describes it:

The gist of SEIU's case was that the connection between a national union and any of its local affiliates is just like the Bank of America's relationship to branch banks. If the parent company (in this case, SEIU) wants to reorganize a local branch or change its management in any way, there's no legal basis for objecting. Despite being elected by the members, local officers owe a greater “fiduciary duty” to the international union than to anyone else. They must comply with any headquarters directive, even if the workers they represent are opposed to it.

And that’s what the court decided, thereby dealing a big setback to the cause of workers and union democracy.

Dan Siegel, a lawyer who’s handled similar cases since the 1970s and defended NUHW’s leaders against SEIU’s lawsuit, put it this way:

"This is really a very nefarious decision. It turns the law of fiduciary duty on its head. Local union officials can be accused of breaching their fiduciary duty if they disobey directives from national union officials contrary to the interests of their members."

Siegel fears that:

“more local union officials will be faced with a conflict of interest when their national union and their members tell them to do different things. If they stick with the workers, they could face a lawsuit for damages, measured by the entire budget of the local.”

Another legal observer describes the court’s unhelpful judicial "preference for a top-down style of unionism, favoring hierarchical, organizational discipline over the principles of internal union democracy and member control of unions."

And here’s another indication of how bad the court’s decision is:  The court said UHW’s former leaders violated their “fiduciary duty” by resisting the transfer of the 65,000 workers... even though SEIU itself has NEVER EVER transferred the workers since it seized control of UHW in 2009!

What about NUHW’s leaders, who are personally on the hook as a result of the court’s horrible decision? Here’s what John Borsos, Secretary-Treasurer of NUHW, told Early:

“I wasn’t elected by the international union. I was elected by the rank-and-file members. That, in my opinion, is who I owed my duty to, which is why I don’t have any remorse about listening to the voice of our members at the expense of the international union. If we had to do it again, we’d do the same thing.”

Here’s a link to the full article on ZNet.