As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, there is controversy and dissension brewing at the Service Employees International Union. This is important stuff. It indicates that union chief Andy Stern is under fire for ignoring basic services for union members while spending more time trying to expand the union's political power by adding to its numbers through mergers and other tactics. But the big deal is that Stern is accused by other union activists of an autocratic style that includes a refusal to seek or receive rank-and-file approval for many of his initiatives. Sal Roselli, president of United Healthcare Workers West, resigned from the SEIU's executive committee, wrote a scathing letter accusing Stern of "undemocratic practices," citing numerous examples. For one example, he wrote that the result of Stern's actions would be that "rank and file members will have no say, and no ability to affect their workplace destiny."
In one case, Roselli accused Stern of interfering in the affairs of the SEIU California State Council by "using the imposition of a revised constitution and bylaws to prompt a presidential election when none had been anticipated, then maniupulating the per capita voting formula and procedures in order to produce the outcome you desired."
In another instance, he writes that Stern's officers "tried to cast 'per capita' votes on behalf of unorganized workers who had no knowledge of the negotiations, paid no dues to SEIU, and were not even in the process of forming a union."
Now, consider those complaints in light of the misnamed, anti-democraticÂ Employee Free Choice Act, which still is being pushed in Congress. The bill would effectively end secret ballots in the course of workers' decisions about whether or not to unionize in the first place. Instead, it would let unions be formed (or be the official bargaining representative) when a majority of workers sign a card asking to unionize. Of course, if all that is involved is a public card signing, it is an open invitation to intimidation: "Sign this card, or else. We know where you live!"
In light of Stern's practices at SEIU, the right of workers to choose NOT to unionize -- to choose, in private, "their workplace destiny" -- is all the more important.
Not only is the controversy at SEIU worth watching, but it is worth using in the course of making the very valid public, political arguments against the Employee Free Choice Act.
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