SEIU-UNITE HERE Settlement Reached

by Randy Shaw on July 27, 2010

After an 18-month battle that began with SEIU believing it could affect a hostile takeover of its once close union ally, the two unions reached a settlement yesterday almost entirely on UNITE HERE’s terms. SEIU’s raids on UNITE HERE split the labor movement just as Barack Obama took office, undermining labor’s key goals of securing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and comprehensive immigration reform. The settlement represents a major breakthrough for new SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, who accomplished what Andy Stern could not. It represents an even bigger victory for the rank and file members of UNITE HERE, who rose to the challenge posed by SEIU’s attacks and reaffirmed their ability to struggle “one day longer” than their adversaries.

The settlement between SEIU and UNITE HERE will not repair the damage caused by Andy Stern’s reckless declaration of war on his union’s closest ally. But it enables both unions to stop squandering resources on SEIU’s raids, which were ongoing almost until the day the agreement was signed.

The Agreement’s Terms

The heart of the agreement is twofold: it ends SEIU’s raids on UNITE HERE’s traditional jurisdictions of hotel, gaming and food service, and returns to UNITE HERE an estimated $75 million dollars stolen from the union by current SEIU Executive Vice-President, Bruce Raynor. It also gives UNITE HERE its office building in New York City, valued at $85 million.

SEIU’s press release credits Raynor along with Henry and UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm with forging the settlement, but Raynor played no role in the negotiations.

(How Raynor will now justify his $250,000 salary is anyone’s guess. Perhaps he’ll be among the many top SEIU staff ordered to help on the UHW Kaiser campaign, with discharge the price of saying no)

For UNITE HERE, the return of its stolen millions could not come at a better time. It means a major influx of resources to boost its multi-city hotel contract campaign, and has to be a major blow to the global hotel industry, which rejected a chance to get a one-year deal on favorable terms with the union. With hotel business now booming, and UNITE HERE with sufficient resources to expand its campaign, the momentum has clearly shifted in the union’s direction.

UNITE HERE Food Service Director Jim Dupont told me recently. “we’ve done an incredible job with scarce resources due to Raynor’s theft of our funds. When we get that money back, our operation will reach levels we’ve never gotten to before.”

Dupont’s comments are a reminder that Andy Stern thought he would have UNITE HERE begging for peace by September 2009, believing that Raynor had depleted the union of the resources necessary to survive. As it turned out, SEIU was the party desperate to settle, and agreed to a deal that was largely if not entirely on John Wilhelm’s terms.

One Day Longer

Of all the boneheaded moves that came to typify Andy Stern’s last two years, none surpasses his belief that UNITE HERE would respond to SEIU’s raids on its members by quickly calling uncle.

How anyone with even a minimal knowledge of UNITE HERE’s history could have made such an assumption is mystifying. It can only be understood as a case of wishful thinking.

Consider some of the people Stern thought would promptly surrender in the face of SEIU threats.

Joe Daugherty, who was physically threatened by SEIU-backed thugs at his Detroit union office in 2009, was arrested 36 times during a ten-month strike in 1989 at the Horseshoe Hotel in Las Vegas. Daugherty then helped lead a successful six year strike that began in 1991 at the Frontier Hotel in which he did not take a single day’s vacation.

D.Taylor, head of UNITE HERE’s gaming division, was also a key leader in the historic Frontier strike. In fact, many veterans of that strike are still active members and staff with UNITE HERE (Local 226) and for Stern to have believed these folks would simply surrender to SEIU in the space of a few months is bizarre.

Those of us who work in San Francisco know how Local 2 has routinely fought multi-year hotel struggles, and Stern and Raynor’s attempt to turn Local 2 members against their elected leadership could not have been more misguided. SEIU’s mailings and robocalls bashing Local 2 and Local 11 (Los Angeles) leaders fired up UNITE HERE members, and had the direct opposite of the impact intended.

In fact, I began writing about SEIU’s attacks on UNITE HERE on April 7, 2009 after Raynor defamed Local 2 leader and now international UNITE HERE executive Tho Do. I ended up writing more about the conflict than any journalist in the country, so I guess that SEIU attack also had the opposite impact desired.

SEIU felt that UNITE HERE was vulnerable in food service, and mounted major raids in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Detroit and other cities. But if Andy Stern had seen Jim Dupont in action, he might never have started this particular fight, because Dupont will go 24/7 for as long as it takes to win.

Ultimately, SEIU did not believe that UNITE HERE’s strategy of staying in struggles “one day longer” than their adversaries would apply to a sudden and all out attack from a rival union. And SEIU was proved wrong.

SEIU’s Afghanistan

SEIU benefits from the settlement by saving millions of dollars in a struggle it was losing on all fronts, and that was getting more hopeless and pointless by the day. With many expecting SEIU to invest as much as $40 million in its Kaiser campaign against NUHW, redirecting this money away from fighting UNITE HERE makes sense.

Neither Mary Kay Henry nor other key Executive Board members ever wanted to attack UNITE HERE. It was clearly seen as Andy Stern’s war, with the SEIU Board, to its discredit and to the damage of the labor movement, quietly going along.

One could say that Henry had the political courage to do what Barack Obama has failed to deliver in Afghanistan, which is to withdraw from their predecessor’s misguided conflict. SEIU cannot be happy with the exact terms of the deal, but Henry made her allies happy by getting it done.

I will provide further analysis of the settlement, along with comments from Local 2 President Mike Casey, in tomorrow’s Beyond Chron.

Randy Shaw writes about many of the figures in UNITE HERE and SEIU in Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. Follow Randy on Twitter: @RandyTHClinic.

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