Day 1 - Organizing Report: Politics & Fuzzy Math
After Andy’s speech the union turned to its bread and butter, the question of organizing the unorganized (who SEIU has determined, through focus groups I guess, we should call not-yet-union workers). Executive Vice President Tom Woodruff ran the show, and spoke about some of the strategies and key campaigns the union has on its agenda. It was the first time I’d ever heard Woodruff speak, and it was an interesting contrast to Stern. Andy’s talk came off like a performance. You half expected to see him trot out people wearing “I heart justice” t-shirts at some perfectly choreographed moment. If you closed your eyes when Andy was talking about SEIU’s new call center program (a centerpiece of “Justice for All”) you could easily have confused him with some Silicon Valley CEO talking about a new product roll out. More than once I wondered if Andy secretly models his public persona on Apple’s celebrated CEO Steve Jobs. Woodruff, on the other hand, was more my style. When he spoke about the rich getting richer by sticking it to working people, it reminded me of my friend John. Whenever John sees a limousine he picks up rocks and starts throwing them. He told me one time there weren’t any rocks around, so he picked up a flowerpot and threw that instead. Growing up working class can have that effect on you. Woodruff’s old school, kick the bosses’ ass, style was well suited to talking about the vultures that dominate today’s economy, from the subprime mortgage lenders to the shadowy world of private equity. You could almost see a gleam in Woodruff’s eye when he started talking about some of these CEOs, and their obscene wealth. At one point he brought up Henry Kravis, the CEO of buyout company KKR. You’d never know it, but KKR is the second largest employer in North America behind Wal-Mart. According to Woodruff, Henry Kravis makes about $51,000 an hour. “So I got curious,” said Woodruff, “How much has he made since we started meeting this morning? I asked somebody to get Andy’s calculator and total it up. Turns out he’s made $306,000. And he’s been at lunch half the time!” As someone who has done a lot of popular economics education in my life, both through Labor Notes and the Center for Popular Economics, I was impressed with the way that Woodruff wove numbers (and maps) into his presentation. Usually folks like to give statistics on inequality like a machine gun, rat-a-tat-tat. Woodruff really made the story he was telling the centerpiece and use the statistics to amplify a point rather than making the statistics themselves the story. He was also really funny in a more genuine, less manicured way than Stern. When talking about corporate greed he said, “In the labor movement we take care of each other. If you have two coats and your brother has none, you give him one of yours. The philosophy of the folks running the country is: ‘If you have two coats and your brother has none, take his shorts.’”
DIVISION REPORTS SEEM LIKE FUZZY MATHAfter Woodruff laid out what the problems are, there was kind of an awkward segue into the organizing reports from the three divisions. Members spoke from some of their recent campaign successes, a sort of implicit victory lap for their 2004 convention strategy. They had a cook from Chicago who works at Sodexho and joined the union through their Service Workers United campaign, a janitor from the University of Miami (in Florida), and a public employee in Colorado who held up the ballot he just got in the mail for their June representation election (which required winning bargaining rights for public employees in the state). Then they featured some current campaigns such as private health care giant HCA, and the security firm Wackenhut. Then we started moving back into the realm of Alice in Wonderland as Eliseo Medina, an executive vice president, reported the division plans, which are: Property Services
- ”Unite” (i.e. organize) 250,000 more property services workers with SEIU in multi-service and private security (which they touted as the biggest organizing drive for African American workers since the 1920s)
- “Speak with one voice” (whatever that means) nationally in cleaning, security and multi-services industries
- Take “speaking with one voice” to a whole other level by setting a target date of 2011 for janitors and 2013 for security guards for national coordination. It wasn’t clear whether they meant they were going to establish common contract expiration dates (a la Justice for Janitors or Hotel Workers Rising) or actually fight for master contracts with the national firms.
- Become the leading organization advocating for quality public services (i.e., surpass AFSCME as the largest public sector union in the country).
- ”Unite” (i.e. organize) 300,000 more public sector workers in next four years.
- Focus attention on winning collective bargaining rights in the south and southwest
- Develop new strategies for organizing other publicly funded workers, much like they have done for homecare and childcare
- Fixing our broken health care system (presumably after electing Barack Obama president)
- “Speaking with one voice nationally” with Catholic and for-profit chains (which I assume means trying to win pattern bargaining agreements at these national chains)
- ”Uniting” (i.e. organizing) 100,000 workers in hospitals and other health care facilities.
- ”Uniting” (i.e. organizing) 250,000 long-term care workers into the union by 2012.
- 314,395 in the Public Services (1997-2005)
- 86,530 in the Property Services (1996-2005)
- 133,719 in Health Systems (1996-2005)
- 357,103 in Long Term Care (1997-2005)