Friday, July 26, 2019

SEIU’s Andy Stern Has a New Gig Fighting Teachers’ Unions

SEIU's Andy Stern

As teachers mount the biggest wave of strikes in recent US history, SEIU’s President Emeritus Andy Stern has jumped onto the side of anti-union forces backed by billionaires.

That’s the news from Hamilton Nolan, a Senior Writer at Splinter NewsEarlier this week, he published a piece detailing Stern’s latest move. (Hamilton Nolan, “High Profile Labor Leader Has a New Gig Fighting Against Teacher's Unions,” Splinter, July 23, 2019.)

What’s going on?

Earlier this year, Stern became an official advisor to a “front group” that’s pushing for the privatization of public schools and is driven by “virulently anti-union elements,” according to an article by Maurice Cunningham. (Maurice Cunningham, “Keri Rodrigues Goes Coastal with Plans for National Parents Union,” MassPoliticsProfs, April 22, 2019.)

The front group -- called the “National Parents Union” -- is funded by the right-wing billionaire family that owns Wal-Mart.

Here are some details from Nolan’s article:
The most prominent and powerful American labor actions of the past year were the teacher’s strikes that swept the nation, from West Virginia to California. Public school teachers have, more than anyone, been the most visible engine of recent union militancy. And as all of that was happening, here is what Andy Stern did: in April of this year, he was announced as an official adviser of the National Parents Union, an education reform group with deep ties to the Walton Foundation, the charitable arm of the family of Walmart heirs, the single richest family in America. (Charter schools are a major focus of the Walton Foundation; the NPU’s board members are affiliated with a variety of groups that have received significant Walton Foundation funding, and its co-leader is an executive at Green Dot Public Schools, a charter group funded in part by the Waltons.)
The National Parents Union—which, in the release containing the news of Stern’s appointment, said that it seeks to “define the education conversation in the 2020 election cycle,” using the language of “empowering families” to erode support for the public education system—is not an actual union. Quite the opposite. It is a classic astroturf-style vessel created for the purpose of giving a political campaign a sheen of grassroots respectability. Its advisers and “Founding Members” are a grab bag of prominent charter school advocates. Andy Stern’s name stands out—his listed title is not from an educational group, but rather, “President Emeritus, SEIU.”
Stern is lending his union-world credibility to a group that says this in its organizing document: “In the same manner that teacher strikes and mobilization are commanding headlines, we have a vision of having parent rallies and mobilizations in the spotlight, redirecting the conversation from one about adults to one about students. The teacher unions currently have no countervailing force. We envision the National Parents Union as being able to take on the unions in the national and regional media, and eventually on the ground in advocacy fights.”
In other words, the former head of one of America’s most politically active unions is using his resume in organized labor to support a group that explicitly aims to undermine teacher’s unions—at a time when teacher’s unions have done more to revive militancy in organized labor than any other group. It is a testament to the contempt in which Andy Stern is already held by much of the labor movement that his involvement in the NPU, which was revealed three months ago, has not yet caused a louder uproar. (It is also a testament to the fact that there seems to be no evidence that the NPU has accomplished anything of note so far.) Stern did not respond to emails seeking comment on his role with the new group.

If you’re curious, here’s the NPU’s press release identifying Stern as SEIU’s President Emeritus and describing him as an “Adviser” to the Wal-Mart family-funded organization. On the second page, it states:
The teacher unions currently have no countervailing force. We envision the National Parents Union as being able to take on the unions in the national and regional media, and eventually on the ground in advocacy fights… We see a significant need for a national body that provides centralized technical assistance and encouragement and also harnesses the collective power of our efforts in important national fights where teachers unions have a monopoly on the conversation.

The press release criticizes teachers for opposing the NPU’s privatization agenda, which it calls “education reform.” And it describes NPU’s plan to organize an “aggressive earned media strategy” to broadcast the “NPU message” via national media outlets, targeting those states where teachers have mobilized for improved funding, limits on classroom sizes, investment in school facilities, and livable wages for teachers and school staff.

So what does SEIU President Mary Kay Henry say about this?

After all, SEIU represents tens of thousands of public school staff, including teachers’ aides, cafeteria workers, school bus drivers, maintenance staff and others. And SEIU is trying to unionize instructors in higher education across the nation. 

Do SEIU’s top officials endorse Stern’s use of the union’s name to support an anti-union agenda backed by right-wing funding sources?

SEIU officials refused to comment, says Nolan. 

Without some sort of clarification, SEIU's silence appears to indicate its support for NPU’s agenda as well as Stern's use of SEIU's name to back the organization.

Nolan got a response from Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers.
“There must be some misunderstanding for a respected labor leader, who spent a good part of his life helping working people, to embrace a Walton-funded group dedicated to attacking them,” she told Splinter via a spokesman. “I urge Andy to take another look at what exactly he’s got himself into.”

Tasty’s reaction?

Andy Stern is a foul-smelling piece of fecal matter.

We should count our blessings that progressive forces in the US labor movement, including California healthcare workers led by Sal Rosselli and hotel workers at HERE, took on Stern’s pathetic sell-out ass more than a decade ago.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

SEIU-UHW’s Dave Regan Goes to Court over Allegations of Sexual Misconduct, Retaliation and Other Charges

SEIU-UHW's Dave Regan

SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan is headed to court tomorrow to face allegations that he’s using an illegal lawsuit to try to silence a former SEIU-UHW staffer who spoke to the media about Regan’s alleged sexual misconduct, drinking on the job, backroom deals with employers, illegal electioneering and other misconduct.

The courtroom action, emerging at the same time that Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest brings renewed attention to the #MeToo movement, will be heard on July 17 in Riverside County (Calif.) Superior Court, according to court records.

Here’s what’s going on:

On March 1st, Payday Report published an article quoting an SEIU-UHW organizer who said Regan has had sexual relations with SEIU-UHW members and staffers, often drinks on the job, and carries out campaigns of retaliation against staffers and union members who raise criticisms.

Days later, Regan’s Chief of Staff Greg Pullman reportedly interrogated the 42-year-old woman organizer and fired her.

Next, on March 21st, Regan used SEIU-UHW’s money and lawyers to sue the former staffer, Njoki Woods, for allegedly defaming him through her comments to the press, which Regan says are false. Regan calls on the court to force Woods to pay an unspecified amount of punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and court fees to Regan. See a copy of the lawsuit below.

On June 11, Woods filed a motion asserting that Regan’s lawsuit is an illegal attempt to retaliate against her for exercising her right to free speech. She defends her earlier statements to Payday Report as truthful. See a copy of the motion below.

How could Regan’s lawsuit be illegal?

Woods says it violates a California law called the “Anti-SLAPP” statute (“Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation”). The law is intended to prevent powerful people from using their money and lawyers to silence members of the public by tying them up with groundless, expensive lawsuits.

In her anti-SLAPP motion, Woods says her statements to Payday Report are “true statements of facts and opinion she made to a reporter. The reporter published an article based on her statements and now Plaintiffs [Regan and SEIU-UHW] are retaliating against Defendant [Woods] for exercising her freedom of speech.”

Woods’ motion says “it was understood to be common knowledge that Plaintiff Regan and Marcus Hatcher, director of Plaintiff SEIU-UHW’s Kaiser Division, had sexual relations with members and staff of the Union…” The motion references a second lawsuit (Mindy Sturge v. SEIU-UHW) that makes similar allegations of sexual misconduct by Regan and other top officials at SEIU-UHW.

Her motion continues:
“Defendant [Woods], throughout her employment for SEIU-UHW, had personal knowledge that Regan drank alcohol while serving his duties as president of the Union. This was evident by sensing, through smell, the odor of alcohol on his breath, and by vision, by frequently exhibiting a flushed face, red, bloodshot, watery eyes. He also slurred his speech, made inappropriate comments, amongst other visual signals of abuse of alcohol.”

In her motion, Woods offers additional details to back up her comments to the press. For example, she describes how her direct supervisor, Grisell Rodriguez, rewarded one of Woods’ coworkers for engaging in a sexual relationship with him. When Woods raised concerns about his actions to Regan and the union’s leaders, they did nothing, she says.
Riverside Superior Court
Woods, who is African-American, also describes how her supervisor and other staff subjected her to racist comments and treatment.
Woods “spoke only the truth, based on her personal experience and knowledge. Woods witnessed the following: employees getting promoted due to the sexual relations those individuals had with other employees of SEIU-UHW; Plaintiff Regan exhibiting symptoms of drinking alcohol while serving his duties as president of the Union; Plaintiff Regan addressing the Union membership, stating that SEIU-UHW would ‘go after’ members who made allegations against the Union while flashing the phone numbers of attorneys in plain view of those in attendance; being called a ‘black bitch’ by co-workers Bustamante and Saldana and her supervisor, Rodríguez; being segregated by race by being told by her supervisor to ‘go sit with your peers’ meaning the other black people; and being told that she had to give money and campaign on her personal time for Plaintiff Regan and his candidates.”
“Therefore, Plaintiffs’ [Regan’s] claim for defamation must fail because Woods merely stated the truth based on her personal experiences and knowledge while working for Plaintiffs.” (pp. 7-8)

Woods’ motion says Regan fired her and sued her to “chill her right to free speech.” In order for Regan to prevail in his defamation case, he must show that Woods’ statements were made with knowledge that they were false or with reckless disregard for the truth. If Woods wins, Regan will have to pay all of her attorneys’ fees and any costs associated with the suit.

One thing is clear: Regan’s decision to target Woods with a lawsuit has only focused more attention on the allegations surrounding his behavior and SEIU-UHW’s inner workings. Stay tuned to Regan’s legal misadventure as more details are sure to spill out like so many maggots from freshly disturbed roadkill.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

SEIU Is Trying to Cut Backroom Deal with Uber and Lyft in California

SEIU officials in California have been engaged in secret discussions with Uber and Lyft around a scheme to exempt the two tech giants from a groundbreaking new bill in California that would force the companies to hire their drivers as employees rather than exploit them as independent contractors.

SEIU, in exchange for backing the companies’ political play in the Capitol, would be designated as the companies’ official union-lite “association” for their independent-contractor drivers, according to articles in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and other publications.

(Johana Bhuiyan, “Treat workers as employees? Uber, Lyft and others are scrambling for a compromise,” Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2019.  Noam Scheiber, “Debate Over Uber and Lyft Drivers’ Rights in California Has Split Labor,” New York Times, June 29, 2019.)

The news has been met with outrage by drivers. Check out this tweet from Rideshare Drivers United-LA:


What’s causing SEIU officials to leap into bed with gig executives?

Opportunism on SEIU’s part. And desperation from the tech execs.

California’s legislature is poised to pass a bill that would require Uber, Lyft and other gig companies to hire their drivers as employees. This would finally give drivers the basic legal protections that come with employment status, including: minimum wage, sick leave, overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, workers’ compensation, parental leave, family leave and contributions to Social Security and Medicare.

The bill was triggered by a unanimous 2018 decision by the California Supreme Court known as the Dynamex decision.

To save money, Dynamex -- a same-day courier service -- converted all its employees to independent contractors. A former employee sued the company. The case ultimately landed in the state Supreme Court, which ruled that company executives had misclassified the workers as contractors. The court set up a new test to determine whether workers are independent contractors or employees.

Earlier this year, California Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez introduced Assembly Bill 5 to put this new standard into California law. If it’s not in state law, workers’ only solution is to sue every time a company violates the Supreme Court’s new standard. AB 5 was approved by the Assembly by a vote of 59 to 15, and it’s now in the State Senate. It’s sponsored by the California Labor Federation.

The bill would affect 100,000 drivers at Uber and Lyft, as well as an estimated 1.9 million additional California workers who are currently misclassified as independent contractors.

Tech companies are going batsh*t crazy over AB 5.

If they can no longer exploit workers as independent contractors, their profits will decline. So they’re pulling out all the stops to try to defeat or gut the bill… including trying to cut backroom deals with unprincipled union officials at SEIU and the Teamsters. Here’s how the Los Angeles Times describes it:
In recent months, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates and other companies have been in discussions with officials at two labor unions — including local chapters of the Teamsters and Service Employees International Union — over a possible legislative alternative to Assembly Bill 5, now working its way through the state Senate. The proposal, details of which are still in flux, would allow the firms to continue to treat workers as independent contractors while providing them some benefits and protections typically reserved for employees. (The California Labor Federation, which represents most of the state’s unions, remains committed to obtaining full employee status for on-demand workers.) At least two of the companies, Postmates and DoorDash, have also commissioned surveys to feel out how such a deal would play with Californians.

According to Vox, the deal would require the tech companies to pay the unions to “advocate for the drivers.” Sounds like a company union. (Alexia Fernández Campbell, “Secret meetings between Uber and labor unions are causing an uproar,Vox, July 1, 2019.)

The New York Times cites two unnamed people who attended a meeting of SEIU officials during the past two weeks during which Alma Hernandez, the executive director of the SEIU California State Council, reportedly talked about SEIU’s discussions with the tech companies. It also cites David Huerta, president of the United Service Workers West, as saying he “attended internal and external meetings about gig workers with Ms. Hernández.

 Drivers have also filed class-action lawsuits to recoup money and rights stolen by the gig giants. In March, Uber settled a class-action lawsuit with 13,600 Uber drivers, agreeing to pay them $20 million, but without changing their status as independent contractors.

Vox’s Alexia Fernández Campbell points out that the tech companies are not just exploiting workers, they’re also shifting billions of dollars of taxes onto the backs of regular people. She writes:
The state estimates it loses about $7 billion a year in payroll tax revenue due to worker misclassification that could be supporting schools, roads and other public services. And by avoiding unemployment insurance taxes and workers’ compensation premiums, businesses shift the burden to the state when workers get laid off, get sick or get injured on the job.
“These billion dollar companies can complain but we have to ask ourselves as taxpayers: Should we subsidize their business by subsidizing their workers?” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a former labor organizer from San Diego who is author of AB 5. “That’s what happens when you don’t adequately compensate workers.”

This is not the first time that SEIU’s top officials have been caught doing dirty deals with tech titans and gig giants. In 2017, SEIU President Emeritus Andy Stern began working as a highly paid consultant for tech businesses to help them pass a law in the New York state legislature so tech companies could continue to treat their workers as independent contractors. It’s unclear whether Stern continues today in that consultant role.
Andy Stern and David Rolf

Also in 2017, Stern co-authored a proposal with a right-wing D.C. political operative calling on the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress and White House to grant “waivers” to states to allow them to do an end-run around federal labor laws. The waivers would be a boon to tech companies, which are facing dozens of class-action action lawsuits from workers alleging they’re owed millions in back pay after being misclassified as “independent contractors.”

Stern’s proposal, entitled “How to Modernize Labor Law” and co-authored with Eli Lehrer (President of the right-wing “R Street Institute” in Washington DC), was published in National Affairs.

In 2018, David Rolf (then-President of SEIU Local 775 and a member of SEIU’s International Executive Board) signed an open letter with Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer calling for the passage of Washington state legislation that reportedly would consign gig workers to a second-class status as independent contractors.

The uber-wealthy plutocrats atop tech companies want to keep sucking as many profits as they can from their workforce. The top three execs at Uber and Lyft have a combined worth of over $1 billion.

Garrett Camp -- a multi-billionaire “Tech tycoon” who co-founded Uber -- just paid a record-breaking $72.5 million for a brand-new estate in Beverly Hills, according to an article published yesterday in Variety.

Uber cofounder and billionaire Garrett Camp
 Camp’s purchase has sparked anger from drivers in Los Angeles. Here’s an excerpt from an article in the London Guardian published yesterday (Sam Levin, “Uber co-founder buys record-breaking LA mansion for $72.5m as drivers fight for wages,” The Guardian (London), July 2, 2019.):

“This is a perfect example of the 1% stealing from the rest of us,” Nicole Moore, a ride-share driver in Los Angeles, said of Camp’s $72.5m purchase. “Drivers are living in their cars. We’re fighting for fair wages. At least share that wealth with the people who have actually built your company.”
“This guy is buying lavish houses with our money, our hard-earned money that they are unjustly taking from us,” added Karim Bayumi, another Los Angeles Uber driver and organizer. “It’s exploitation.”

Hey Mary Kay Henry and Jimmy Hoffa, Jr... Your thoughts? Will SEIU and Teamsters officials perform intimate love acts with these tech billionaires? Or defend exploited workers against greedy corporations?