Bruce Raynor Undermines SEIU

by Randy Shaw on August 13, 2009

Since Bruce Raynor and other former UNITE members left UNITE HERE to join SEIU, many wonder whether Raynor is worth the trouble. To allay these doubts, the newly installed SEIU Executive Vice-President launched a publicity blitz that will likely cause SEIU even more problems. For example, Raynor issued an August 10 press release seeking to embarrass Terrence O’Sullivan of the Laborers Union at a time when Stern is seeking rapprochement with fellow labor leaders. And on August 7, Raynor issued a release praising SEIU’s efforts to decertify – i.e., raid – 2100 UNITE HERE workers employed at airports by Delaware North – in the face of Stern’s insistence that his union is not conducting raids. Raynor’s release also called attention to SEIU’s filing decertification petitions despite UNITE HERE and Delaware North having a signed contract in place; when NUHW sought a decertification election for 14,000 workers at Catholic Healthcare West under similar circumstances, SEIU condemned the petition filing as a “PR stunt.” To top it off, a newly released report details how Raynor engaged in a massive selling spree of ILGWU assets from 1999-2003, a period in which his leadership led the former UNITE to incur a $328 million operating deficit.

Raynor Is Hurting SEIU

Bruce Raynor is a man on a mission. After being installed as an SEIU Executive Vice-President, he is eager to prove his value to Andy Stern and those at SEIU allegedly unhappy about the money he and his Worker United colleagues are costing the union.

But Raynor’s recent actions are undermining, rather than helping, SEIU.

Consider Worker United’s aggressive approach toward 2100 UNITE HERE workers employed by Delaware North Companies at 15 airports across the nation.

The former HERE began representing this national bargaining unit in the 1980’s, and
Unite Here has union contracts with all of the major airport concessionaires and represents airport concessions and airline catering workers at 75 North American airports. No other North American labor union represents airport concessions workers at more than three airports in the United States.

UNITE HERE signed a new contract for this national bargaining unit on August 6, and it was ratified by the workers by a 98% margin on August 7.

Despite this history, Workers United issued a press release on August 7 attacking UNITE HERE’s alleged “Backroom Deal” with Delaware North, and claiming that “Airport Concession Workers Across the Country Fight Back Against UNITE HERE.” The release noted that Workers United had filed decertification petitions to terminate UNITE HERE’s representation, and includes this bold quote from Raynor:

“I am appalled that UNITE HERE would try to sneak this deal by 2,100 workers. The proposed contract is not about what’s good for union members. It’s about dues income for UNITE HERE and Delaware North’s profits. Workers want a union that is transparent, democratic, and able to help them win the wages and benefits they deserve. We will not let UNITE HERE sell Delaware North workers out. With this election, workers will have a voice in choosing their union and more input into their contract in the future.”

Raynor’s all fired up, but his press release actually hurts SEIU in two important ways. Here’s why.

Raynor Promotes SEIU Raid

On July 23, 2009, SEIU President Andy Stern published an open letter to UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm in Beyond Chron that stated:

“Over the past few months, you have charged that Workers United and SEIU have been engaged in raiding activity against your union. This is false.”

Now, only weeks after Stern’s statement, Raynor is seeking media coverage for SEIU’s efforts to raid a national bargaining unit that was organized by HERE in the 1980’s and was never part of the former UNITE.

This means that Raynor is either not on message with Stern, or that SEIU has decided to acknowledge its raids on UNITE HERE since Stern’s denial. I have heard nothing from SEIU to support the latter, as it would make no sense for SEIU to be praising raids when it knows that 26 international union leaders – a list that has expanded from the original fifteen – have signed a statement condemning raids against UNITE HERE.

This means that Raynor likely undercut SEIU’s message on his own, bolstering rumors that the Stern-Raynor marriage is heading for the rocks.

Raynor’s “PR Stunt”

Raynor appears to have issued his Delaware North press release without learning about the SEIU-NUHW struggle in California.

Recall how SEIU stopped decertification petitions at Catholic Healthcare West hospital chains on the grounds that a contract barring such petitions was allegedly in place? And how SEIU described NUHW’s filing of petitions under such circumstances as a “PR Stunt”?

Well, Workers United filed its decertification petitions after UNITE HERE had a signed contract, and only hours before over 700 workers voted to ratify it by a 98% margin. If SEIU found NUHW’s filing – which occurred with key contract provisions not yet finalized – to be frivolous, why is the union using this tactic against UNITE HERE?

Raynor Seeks to Embarrass O’Sullivan

During the UNITE HERE convention, Laborers Union head Terrence O’Sullivan gave an impassioned speech against SEIU raids. So Raynor decided to try to embarrass O’Sullivan by issuing an August 10 press release, “Workers United Calls on Laborers to Withdraw Petition on Washington DC Hotel,” which accuses O’Sullivan’s union of engaging in the same type of conduct for which he condemned SEIU.

Anyone receiving the release must have wondered why SEIU’s affiliate would be attacking rather than praising the Laborers for raiding UNITE HERE, and why it would be trumpeting UNITE HERE’s representation of workers at the same time Bruce Raynor was attacking the union in other forums. .

Well, the obvious answer is that Raynor wanted to make Terrence O’Sullivan look like a hypocrite, presumably believing this would elevate his stature within SEIU. But Raynor miscalculated.

First, Stern and Anna Burger are trying to reconcile with fellow labor leaders, and Raynor’s attempt to embarrass O’Sullivan will not help.

Second, the Laborer’s petition for an election at the DC Hotel is being withdrawn, having been filed by a “green and zealous” organizer. Such jurisidictional disputes often arise locally, and are quickly resolved at the national level.

UNITE HERE was totally unconcerned about the petition filing, recognizing the circumstances. Yet SEIU saw an opportunity to embarrass the well-regarded O’Sullivan, and went to such lengths to do so that it was willing to say good things about UNITE HERE, the union that it is attacking (see Raynor statement above).

Raynor’s prior two mergers ended in litigation and bitterness, and he seems on track for a similar outcome at SEIU.

Randy Shaw is the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.

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