Day 1 - Luck of the Lunch Line

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.

I asked him how the transition is going in his local now that Dave Regan, the resident attack dog of the SEIU International, is slated to permanently move up to the Big House. Regan, along with the Stern-appointed Local 721 president Annelle Grajeda, is currently slated to move into a newly created executive vice president slot. Regan has been carrying water for the International in their high-profile dispute with United Healthcare Workers-West (check out a sample in a debate with Sal Rosselli on Democracy Now).

We gingerly broached the subject of their fight with CNA. When I asked him if there were any plans to rerun the election at Catholic Healthcare Partners, Gabe responded with what might be the understatement of the day, “Our view is that the problem is not the relationship with the employer.” In front of Gabe was Becky Williams, the interim president of the local, who, as it happens, has an article in this month’s issue of Labor Notes, “SEIU 1199: Feisty? Yes. Militant? Maybe. A Company Union? Never!” (sorry folks, you need to subscribe get the exchange between Williams and Ed Bruno from the CNA and Peter Kellman of the Southern Maine Labor Council.)

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Behind me in line was a blast from the past, Adam Glickman (now Adam Glickman-Flora). Adam and I met in 1995, when he organized a conference of “Students for the New Party.” I was involved in local politics in Riverside, California, where I was in grad school, and I am forever in Adam’s debt because that conference was where I met my partner. After the New Party morphed into the Working Families Party Adam worked there as communications director. Now he is vice president of SEIU Local 775 (the number three spot). Something tells me he didn’t move out to Washington state and start working as a homecare worker and rise up through the ranks to get there.

This is something that we don't talk a lot about, but which is a big contradiction inside SEIU right now. Is it appropriate for staff to be members of the local and get elected into officer slots? How does that affect the union's functioning? Its priorities? How it handles the tough choices, like winning higher standards for current members versus securing organizing rights to bring unorganized workers into the union? Does it make sense for folks who have never had to live and work under the contracts they negotiate to be the key decision-makers sitting across the table from management?

Mark Brenner is the Director of Labor Notes. He can be reached at mark@labornotes.org

Comments

kroms (not verified) | 03/02/09

The most important point that is made here is the desire to fight anyone who stands in the way of single payer healthcare. We have already had ominous notions from Barack Obama over what is affordable and have seen that his cabinet is not ready to address social change in any real or meaningful way.

Natalie (not verified) | 08/28/08

I was a homecare worker. Now I work in a residential setting. I use to be active in SEIU775 but I felt that the leadership did not encourage the real "workers" to be leaders. I couldn't stand being ignored. I eventually stopped doing homecare and worked with people with disablities in a residential and group home setting. This new agency that I worked was not unionized. After a few months of working there, SEIU had some "organizer" attempt to unionize the agency's workers. She did not know the difference between what homecare workers did compare to those who worked in group homes and those who in residential settings. She did not know the training is different, the expectations are different, and most importantly she did not know you deal with very different clientele (e.g. their behaviors ranging from mild disruptions to having to call the police). She was incapable of understanding real issues concerning us and that's why we didn't want to be unionized.