In Bold Stroke, SEIU’s Andy Stern Urges Labor Unity

by Randy Shaw on April 1, 2010

(Note: This was part of our April Fools Day, 2010 edition) In a positive step for the nation’s labor movement, SEIU President Andy Stern told a group of janitors on April Fool’s Day that his union will immediately cease its attacks on UNITE HERE, and avoid negative campaigning in elections against NUHW. Stern acknowledged that he was “wrong when I thought we could fight NUHW and UNITE HERE without weakening our ability to organize new workers. These internal union battles have distracted us from working to pass the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and comprehensive immigration reform.”

UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm was skeptical about Stern’s about-face, saying he “would see how this plays out on the ground.” NUHW President Sal Rosselli was even more doubtful: “it’s great that SEIU is finally withdrawing the blocking charges that prevented workers from choosing their union. But the real test is whether Stern sticks to peace if workers vote en masse to leave SEIU for NUHW.”

Andy Stern surprised his critics yesterday with an unexpected announcement that SEIU would cease trying to raid workers from UNITE HERE, and would instead stick to organizing in its core jurisdictions of building services (i.e., janitors) and health care workers. In addition, while Stern said that SEIU would vigorously compete with NUHW in California, SEIU is withdrawing all of its blocking charges so workers could freely choose between the two unions.

Stern also described the current federal trial in which SEIU has sued 26 of its former leaders as assisting labor peace. “Once the federal court has spoken, we are prepared to move forward and compete with NUHW without acrimony.”

Journalist Steve Early, a longtime Stern critic who is working on a book on SEIU, was taken aback by SEIU’s about-face: “It’s rare for Andy Stern to admit he was wrong about anything, particularly SEIU’s ill-conceived battles against UNITE HERE and NUHW.”

While Early remained deeply skeptical over Stern’s future plans, he credited the SEIU President for making a “great public relations move.”

Why Stern Changed Course

Several theories have emerged for Stern’s decision, ranging from SEIU’s lack of success in battling UNITE HERE to the damage the SEIU brand has suffered through its struggle against NUHW. But one longtime labor movement veteran who requested anonymity may have gotten closest to Stern’s actual reasoning: “Andy does not plan to stay at SEIU much longer, and he’s thinking of his legacy. He wants to be seen as someone who took the labor movement to the next level, not the guy who sowed division and set the movement back.”

Insiders have previously told BeyondChron that Stern feels he was misled into attacking UNITE HERE by faulty information provided by former UNITE HERE President Bruce Raynor. Rather than boosting SEIU’s coffers, the union’s alliance with Raynor’s breakaway members has become a major financial burden; labor peace helps SEIU’s bottom line.


While many question how Stern could talk peace with NUHW while seeking $5 million in civil damages from its top leaders, there is logic to Stern’s assessment that the trial is a necessary precondition for peace. After rallying workers around claims that Sal Rosselli and the other 25 defendants stole millions of dollars from the SEIU-UHW treasury, SEIU could not withdraw such charges without losing credibility.

Stern’s agreement to withdraw SEIU’s NLRB claims means that nearly all of its elections with NUHW will occur this year. While elections can become adversarial, Stern’s agreement to abide by the “Fair Election Rules” developed for the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital campaign should minimize union vs. union attacks.

Of course, it is one thing for Andy Stern to pledge peace, and another for angry UNITE HERE and NUHW staff and members to put their negative feelings toward Stern and SEIU behind. But as UNITE HERE Staff Director Tom Snyder told me, “We did not start any fight with SEIU and we always said it made no sense. John (Wilhelm) has always put the union’s interests first. He believes that if SEIU follows through on Stern’s pledge to disassociate from Raynor and his rogue former UNITE HERE locals, the harsh feelings will soon disappear.”

NUHW staff and members were less sanguine, but one has to believe that even their anger abates once SEIU drops its election challenges and stops its negative attacks.

Randy Shaw hopes you enjoyed this April Fools edition, and is the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.

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