Today was Anna Burger's day in the spotlight. Her stump speech was about the 2008 elections, and why politics was so important to SEIU's future. Burger, who heads up Change to Win, is apparently the czar of SEIU's political operations, and it was nice to hear her say, "There is no question that organizing and politics go hand and hand," acknowledging the link between SEIU's growth and their work in the political arena.
Tonight the Puerto Rican teachers held a "charla" or chat with SEIU members interested in learning more about their struggle, and the conflict between SEIU and their union the FMPR. I couldn't be there but Labor Notes Policy Committee member Steve Early was on the scene. From Steve's reports, the FMPR event sounded about as far from the highly scripted, stage-managed SEIU convention as you could get.
After the division reports, International Executive Vice President Tom Woodruff closed the show, emphasizing a couple of the key pieces of the “Justice for All” program. These include:
- Ensuring all locals follow through on constitutional commitment to spend 20 percent of their budgets on organizing.
- Recommendations from the International Executive Board (IEB) that when bargaining with designated national employers and industry sectors, designated by the divisions, that we speak with one voice and unite our strength.
After Andy’s speech the union turned to its bread and butter, the question of organizing the unorganized (who SEIU has determined, through focus groups I guess, we should call not-yet-union workers). Executive Vice President Tom Woodruff ran the show, and spoke about some of the strategies and key campaigns the union has on its agenda.
The afternoon started off with Andy Stern’s big speech. You can watch the whole thing on the web and I encourage you check it out and draw your own conclusions about Stern’s vision for the union.
Once I got my food I had a really interesting conversation at the lunch table with several rank-and-file SEIU members. I was sitting next to a woman from 1199 New York who remarked that this convention, her fourth one, lacked energy. The man sitting next to her commented on all the security.
Lunch on Day 1 of the SEIU convention was another déjà vu moment. As fates would have it, I got in line behind Gabe Kramer, a senior staffer at 1199 West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. Gabe was part of the crew that tried to barrel their way into the banquet at the Labor Notes conference in April. You can see him in the video—he is the guy in the parking lot with the beard, wearing a bomber jacket and leading chants with the megaphone.
After I made it into the guest area on the convention floor I found my way to the press section and settled in. (We’re in the back corner closest to the door if you want to come by and say hello.) I got a little panicky when the convention opened with a video so cheesy it made Tuesdays with Morrie look like Apocalypse Now.
Life sometimes kicks up ironies so fantastic you have to laugh out loud. On opening day of the SEIU convention there were more than I could count. The first one happened less than ten minutes after I got inside the convention center. (Yes, they did scan the barcode on my ID badge, albeit only once, and I did have to pass through a turnstile)
This morning started early, with a breakfast hosted by the big California dissident local, United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW). Sal Rosselli and three rank-and-file members—Mell Garcia, a UHW member at a Kaiser hospital, Rosie Byers, a 31-year homecare worker and UHW member, as well as Michael Fenison, a respiratory therapist in Englewood who joined UHW four years ago when his hospital was organized—talked to reporters about how things were unfolding at the convention.