Settlement Reached in Two-Year Feud between SEIU and UNITE HERE

After nearly two years of warfare and legal wrangling, the hotel workers (UNITE HERE) and service workers (SEIU) announced on Monday an end to their bitter dispute. The deal promises to end hostilities that broke into the open when former UNITE HERE President Bruce Raynor organized a faction within the union to split from UNITE HERE and join SEIU.

The move, hatched with top SEIU leaders including former president Andy Stern, locked the two unions in a battle over members and money and widened the gulf between SEIU and the rest of organized labor. It remains to be seen what impact the UNITE HERE settlement will have on SEIU’s other major conflict—with the National Union of Healthcare Workers, its California rival.

BANK, REAL ESTATE LOOM LARGE

According to sources familiar with the settlement, the deal will leave UNITE HERE with $75 million in disputed assets and the union’s New York headquarters, valued at over $70 million. In exchange SEIU's Workers United unit (formed when Raynor's group joined SEIU) will gain control of the Amalgamated Bank, whose $4.3 billion in assets produce a $20 million annual surplus. The bank, formed in 1923 by New York’s garment workers union, was a key sticking point in negotiations and retaining it was a top priority for SEIU.

The settlement leaves UNITE HERE with exclusive rights to organize in its core jurisdiction, the hotel and gaming industries in the U.S. and most of Canada. UNITE HERE also retains organizing rights in the key segments of the growing food service industry, including commercial cafeterias, stadiums, concert halls, airports, convention centers, and parks. Thousands of members whose locals left in the split will rejoin UNITE HERE by the end of the year.

SEIU will organize food service workers in health care facilities and government buildings. The unions agreed to compete for food service workers in public schools, colleges, and universities.
In Canada, the two sides could not reach agreement over jurisdiction or the division of existing members in Ontario, so there will be a short mediation process. The same is true for 5,000 food service workers in Orlando, Florida.

UNITE HERE COMES OUT AHEAD

The deal seems a clear victory for UNITE HERE and its two-pronged strategy of building on-the-ground resistance to SEIU’s hostile takeover coupled with extensive cross-union solidarity.

One year ago SEIU was pressing to settle, demanding binding arbitration on a proposal developed by UFCW President Joe Hansen after several rounds of mediation. That deal would have left UNITE HERE with less cash, no jurisdiction in the food service industry, and no rights to the Amalgamated Bank or the union’s Manhattan headquarters.

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UNITE HERE fought with few resources at its disposal. At last year’s convention, leaders said all but $4 million of the union’s assets had been tied up in lawsuits and that an additional $12 million had been siphoned off by Raynor loyalists on the eve of the split.

But UNITE HERE held out against SEIU’s settlement, actually turning momentum in its favor. It won several important head-to-head contests with SEIU, including defeating decertification efforts among cafeteria workers in the Philadelphia school system and among airport concessionaires working for Delaware North, a national food service company.

UNITE HERE also built on longstanding resentment over Andy Stern’s leading role in the 2005 split in the AFL-CIO, and rallied the rest of the labor movement against SEIU’s raids at hotels and airports, which weren’t the first turf-stealing in recent years by “America’s fastest-growing union.” UNITE HERE also answered in kind with some of its own raids.

ALLIES AND LEVERAGE

UNITE HERE gained leverage by making common cause with the National Union of Healthcare Workers, the upstart California union organized by former leaders of SEIU’s United Healthcare Workers-West. That local was trusteed and leaders ousted for their opposition to Stern’s centralization of power and deal-making with employers.

By providing the new health care union with money, logistical support, and organizing staff, UNITE HERE helped NUHW win contests with SEIU over the last year, including December’s victory at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, the January election among social workers, nurses, and other professionals at Kaiser Permanente’s Southern California facilities, and more recently at University of Southern California Medical Center and Providence Tarzana Hospital.

No surprise, then, that SEIU was eager to get UNITE HERE out of the picture before a make-or-break contest with NUHW this fall. Elections are soon to be held among 45,000 Kaiser Permanente health care workers throughout California. Like a 2009 peace agreement between SEIU and the rival California Nurses Association, the new settlement prohibits UNITE HERE from providing assistance to NUHW. That will mean recalling dozens of staffers currently in the field aiding the new union.

The suddenly flush UNITE HERE may be able to leave NUHW with enough resources, however, to gear up for the Kaiser fight.

Comments

NancyEJ | 07/30/10

I love how Randy Shaw, Labor Notes and the rest of the "labor movement" is so breathless in their praise of Wilhelm and his ability to withstand a raid by another union. Never mind how both sides of this serve their members, the thuggish tactics, the squandered dues dollars, the abuse and exploitation of members in this "by any means necessary" defense of turf. Oh, I forgot, that's all any real "labor insider" respects, the ability to "defend turf" and "hang tough". Screw the stupid stuff like respecting the members, running a democratic organization, giving the members the most for their hard earned buck, even winning grievances or making contract gains. Does anyone out there even give a wet rat's a$$ how UNITE HERE treats it's members? Is anyone even a little curious as to how any of last year's poster children are doing now?

Oh of course not. Bruce is off being interviewed by NPR and Andy is doing his new board of directors thing, Wilhelm is bruising his hand patting himself on the back for what an awesome "labor leader" he is, all the rest of the cast of clowns have moved on to bigger and better things rewarded for their loyalty to their particular union sun god king and the members? Well, why worry about the members. what are they going to do? Decert? Revolt? Take back their union hall? Hell, they can't even get fifteen minutes in a day to p!ss.
All hail the lions of unionism.

ckutalik (not verified) | 07/31/10

Funny thing is that I lived in Detroit for seven years and have met any number of active Local 24 members, especially food service workers at the airport who I count among my personal friends. And world of wonders they may have problems with how things are run at times but they certainly don't echo your cynicism--some of them actually even volunteering their time to organize their co-workers.

I'm sorry "right-to-work"-ish sounding cynicism doesn't cut it in a period like this when employers take every opportunity to smash us. Have a problem with your union: get active; build power on the job to whip the boss with your co-workers; and participate in making your local a democratic entity.

NancyEJ | 07/31/10

Hey, full disclosure, Kutalik.
I spent eight months last year working for Workers United talking to local 24 members in Detroit. I made hundreds of phone calls and house visits to airport and arena workers and folks who work at the country clubs. To be fair, I'd say 10% of them had a neutral or better opinion of local 24. I never met ONE who had a copy of their contract. Most had no idea they could even vote on their leadership or were discouraged even blocked from doing so.
And believe it or not if you want to, (I really don't give a sh!t) over half of them expressed hatred for all things 24 before a word of agitation from me. And a disturbing percentage of them were truly terrified of their steward or their business rep, more afraid their union would get them fired than their bosses.

Last January, Local 24 had over a dozen expired contracts in Food Service alone, some for years, and the reps weren't even setting up dates. You want me to keep going about what I know about how things are done at local 24? I'll go get my NOTES. We can talk more about the Local 24 members at the airport crapping their pants begging for a break or being sexually assaulted by their supervisors who couldn't get a call returned from local 24.

All that said, I don't have a single decent thing to say about anyone from Workers United, so don't go ahead and assume some loyalty to those idiots is somehow shaping my opinion of UNITE HERE. I got sucked into that conflict only based upon my boss's loyalties. And the minute I understood the truth about what we were doing I was looking for another job. And the day I found out last July that Bruce's first order of business for cash strapped Workers United was securing his old 350K salary for running a union a third of the size while laying off half the staff? And I saw the leadership around me DEFEND THAT? That's when the scales fell from my eyes about ALL OF IT. And none of that negates or erases what I now know about local 24 and other UNITE HERE locals out there.

I was an organizer and director for the better part of 10 years for four different internationals telling myself over and over that things might be different in another local or union or working on a different campaign. They never were, the treatment of members was always more egregious the lies more outrageous, the breeches of decency more unbelievable.

Here's what I think -- I think the people you know from local 24 are active members which means they must be tight with Daugherty and the rest of them. So yeah, with super seniority and all, I'm sure local 24 seems awesome to them -- it did to almost all the stewards I met with super seniority and plenty of cool perks designed just for them built into each new contract.

I know the drill -- anyone who's negative on the current state of unions must be some Republican operative. Whatever. And that attitude is why unions are circling the drain, because no one with a union jobs wants to look too hard or critically at how unions really do business, better to just keep regurgitating the talking points and blame the evil bosses. No one wants to hold their peers to some standards of good behavior or call out bad players like Daugherty in their own ranks. Ya'll want to just blame the bosses, the law, union busters and Ronald GD Reagan instead of take an honest look AROUND YOU at the incompetence, cronyism and contempt for the members. And you're all too busy patting yourselves on the back for being all honorable and noble "labor activists" to even notice how unions are screwing over the people who actually work for a living and pay your salaries.

And as far as Right to Work? My hands are itching for a RtW petition to walk -- hell, I'll carry that petition until my feet bleed from here to Ontanogan. There is not one damn thing wrong with unions EARNING THE DUES.

NancyEJ | 07/31/10

Oh. I see where you are a paid consultant for UNITE HERE, Chris.

Nevermind. I am nothing but a Republican sock puppet with no credibility whatsoever.

Carry on.

NancyEJ | 07/30/10

My father, an immigrant of peasant stock, used to show his utter contempt for something by being able to spit on the ground like a bullet.
I envy him that and imagine myself with that ability every time now I hear the word "union".

worker justice (not verified) | 07/29/10

Workers deserve better than the abusive cult tactics that unite here uses:

The New York Times
November 19, 2009

Some Organizers Protest Their Union’s Tactics
By Steven Greenhouse

After six years working in the laundry of a Miami hotel, Julia Rivera was thrilled when her union tapped her to become a full-time union organizer.

But her excitement soon turned to outrage.

Ms. Rivera said her supervisors at Unite Here, the hotel and restaurant workers’ union, repeatedly pressed her to reveal highly personal information, getting her to divulge that her father had sexually abused her.

Later, she said, her supervisors ordered her to recount her tale of abuse again and again to workers they were trying to unionize at Tampa International Airport, convinced that Ms. Rivera’s story would move them, making them more likely to join the union.

“I was scared not to do what they said,” said Ms. Rivera, adding that she resented being pressured to disclose intimate information and then speak about it in public. “To me, it was sick. It was horrible.”

Ms. Rivera and other current and former Unite Here organizers are speaking out against what they say is a longstanding practice in which Unite Here officials pressured subordinates to disclose sensitive personal information — for example, that their mother was an alcoholic or that they were fighting with their spouse.

More than a dozen organizers said in interviews that they had often been pressured to detail such personal anguish — sometimes under the threat of dismissal from their union positions — and that their supervisors later used the information to press them to comply with their orders.

“It’s extremely cultlike and extremely manipulative,” said Amelia Frank-Vitale, a Yale graduate and former hotel union organizer who said these practices drove her to see a therapist.

Several organizers grew incensed when they discovered that details of their history had been put into the union’s database so that supervisors could use that information to manipulate them.

“This information is extremely personal,” said Matthew Edwards, an organizer who had disclosed that he was from a broken home and was overweight when young. “It is catalogued and shared throughout the whole organizing department.”

...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/19/business/19labor.html

chuck.hendricks | 08/03/10

Worker Justice: Since you are so concerned about the staff of UNITE HERE, below is a letter signed by over 90 percent of the actual staff of UNITE HERE that was sent to Steven Greenhouse after this article was published.

An Open Letter:
It is a tremendous disappointment to Unite Here staff members represented by our staff union, UUHS, that Steven Greenhouse and The New York Times chose to publish such a one-sided piece about alleged practices within Unite Here. Greenhouse’s story is founded on trumped-up claims made by disgruntled former staffers , one of whom currently works for SEIU, and another who helped SEIU interfere with an organizing campaign.

We are shocked by Mr. Greenhouse’s irresponsible reporting and lack of journalistic integrity. Greenhouse failed to place the issue of “pink sheeting” into the broader context of SEIU’s attacks on our Union, made a few isolated incidents look like an institutional conspiracy, and even speculated that a painful part of the UFW’s history is somehow related to Unite Here. For this he offered little or no evidence and support. Mr. Greenhouse willfully omitted the views and opinions of current staff members whom he interviewed, despite the fact that he talked with an elected leader of UUHS for over an hour.
UUHS acknowledges that Unite Here, like any large organization, faces challenges. The role of our staff union is to ensure a check and balance system in Unite Here, and to critically address issues in a productive way. We condemn any invasion of our members’ privacy. However, readers should know that in October, an overwhelming majority of Unite Here staff chose to leave our former staff union, FOUR, and join UUHS. The reason being that FOUR, now the representative for Workers United staff, colluded with WU/SEIU by sensationalizing serious allegations to the press, and even intentionally ignored grievances by staff in a cynical effort to damage Unite Here. Failing to even acknowledge this aspect of the controversy, Mr. Greenhouse merely contributed to their efforts and produced a tabloid distortion of the truth.

As current staff, our experience with Unite Here is that it fosters our ability to think and critique, contribute intelligently, and creates space for us to challenge and discuss key decisions of the union. We are proud of its organizing culture. Organizers are committed to building deep and trusting relationships with workers, in which they relate as complete human beings; there is mutual recognition that both organizers and workers are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, care-takers of family, and members of our communities. No one is just a worker at a job site. It is this dedication that has allowed rank and file members to become leaders in our union and the broader movement for social justice, and has made Unite Here a strong and member-driven leader of the American labor movement.

ckutalik (not verified) | 07/30/10

than anonymously-posted propaganda from staffers relying on a terrible piece of biased mainstream reporting.

NancyEJ | 07/30/10

please don't construe this as some endorsement of the hot mess that is Workers United but, in response to your comment, workers deserve better than UNITE HERE.
Don't believe me -- just ask members of Local 24 at random how well their union is representing them. Ask them what they get for their dues. Ask them if they've ever seen a copy of their contract or what happens when they call down to the union office. Ask them if they ever voted for Joe Daugherty or even knew they had the right to vote.
You might want to ask who they fear more -- their employer or their union. Then repeat this process at UNITE HERE shops across the country.
Workers don't deserve any of this crap. They don't deserve to be treated like dues cows. They don't deserve to be fed a steady diet of union newsletter bullsh!t. They don't deserve have their hard earned dues spent on incompetent staffers, corrupt leadership and the pampered spoiled brats who have effectively highjacked the labor movement. They don't deserve to have their stories used to score political points. They don't deserve to be put at risk on the job because of idiot union stunts. And they really don't deserve to be harassed on the job, on the phone and in their homes by union stooges who could care less what happens to them once the Bruce Raynors and John Wilhelms of the world have settled their idiot p!ssing matches.