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?