Serious charges against SEIU in Fresno

Last June, in advance of a union election for 10,000 homecare workers in Fresno County, NUHW had built relationships with thousands of homecare providers through months of door-to-door organizing and the leadership of caregivers who had built the union in Fresno and who supported NUHW.

In response, on the eve of the election, SEIU brought 1,000 organizers to Fresno to conduct a “blitz” of home visits to overturn NUHW’s advantage.

Now, according to newly released sworn testimony from workers and SEIU staff whistleblowers who worked on the campaign in Fresno, SEIU staff committed serious violations of the rules in the Fresno at the direction of their superiors, including harassing, intimidating and threatening voters and handling workers’ ballots in violations of election law.

There were clear rules and state laws that governed the Fresno election:

-a union organizer should not open, handle, mark or alter a voter’s ballot

-a union organizer should not use threats of reprisal or force to intimidate voters

-a union organizer should not use intimidation and fear to deprive voters of a free choice in an election

-a union organizer should not obtain unsupervised access to voters’ marked ballots

As reported in the Fresno Bee on November 12th, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) filed a complaint with the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) and organized a petition calling on PERB to investigate these serious charges regarding the treatment of workers in the Fresno election.

NUHW’s complaint is based not only on the sworn testimony of the Fresno caregivers. NUHW’s charge that SEIU crossed the line in Fresno is also based on the affidavits of two SEIU organizers who have left SEIU and become whistleblowers.

(For an excellent article providing some background on this story, please see author Steve Early’s article today in In These Times.)


SEIU Whistleblower testimony

Carlos Martinez is the SEIU staffer mentioned by the worker in the video. His testimony appears (Exhibit 8, pgs. 20-26) in NUHW’s Fresno complaint.

In his testimony Martinez spoke about trainings with SEIU leaders:

The speaker for SEIU at each of these meetings was Rebecca Malberg, the Temporary Director for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West and Ben Tracey, the Lead Community Organizer assigned to Fresno, California. I personally was present for four (4) such meetings. At each of these meeting Malberg and Tracey went over the same points. Malberg told the campaigners to tell the voters that if they (the voters) voted for NUHW and NUHW won the election, the voters would lose their jobs as In-Home Support Service providers, that they (the voters) would lose their medical benefits and that they would no longer have the $20.00 co-pay provision with Kaiser; that they County would reduce the wages for providers to the minimum wage; and that providers would lose their hours and that those who provided In-Home Support Services for family members would no longer be able to care for such family members.

According to Martinez’ testimony, Rebecca Malberg also instructed Carlos Martinez to break state law:

During a conversation between myself and Malberg she stated to me that SEIU personnel should not touch, mark or change the ballots. However, as this statement was being made to me Malberg winked and asked me you understand right? I stated I understood her direction. I understood her direction to mean that SEIU should touch, mark or change the ballots if necessary to win the election but that no one was to know about it because it was not proper to do so. Malberg stated that the campaigners should make certain that all ballots supporting SEIU were actually mailed. Malberg warned campaigners, however, not to touch the envelopes. When asked how to make sure that envelopes were mailed, Malberg told campaigners to either take the voter to the postbox or to take the envelopes. Malberg instructed that if the campaigners took envelopes from voters, the campaigners should have the voters place the envelope in the purple bag supplied to campaigners by SEIU, and then to dump the envelopes into a mailbox directly from the bag.  Using this process the campaigners would never actually touch the envelope.

According to the affidavit, another SEIU leader, Nathan Selzer, instructed Martinez to violate the rules, even giving instructions how to do so in a step by step process :

I was at a voter’s residence during the campaign when the voter showed me the ballot that the voter had marked. The ballot had been marked NUHW. I then presented all of the arguments that had been covered during the orientation meetings, and convinced the voter to give me her ballot.  At that time I placed a a telephone call to Nathan Selzer for direction. I called Selzer because he was the person to whom I reported during the campaign. It had been instructed that all of the media releases made by SEIU out of the Fresno office had to go through Selzer. During the telephone call about the ballot in question Selzer instructed me to take the following steps, which I did. I crossed off the the mark on the ballot for NUHW and wrote next to that box the word “error.” I then drew an arrow to the box corresponding to a vote for SEIU and placed an “X” in that box. Finally, I wrote the words “this is the correct” next to the mark for SEIU. Selzer instructed me to take the above action because it would ensure that the vote would not be counted for NUHW.

In a mail-in secret ballot election the voter controls their vote. The voter marks the ballot, casts the vote, seals the envelope and mails the ballot themselves. It is against the rules for an organizer to even so much as touch ballot materials, much less put that ballot under their unsupervised control or mark the ballot.

The testimony of the second SEIU whistleblower, Richard O’Brien (Exhibit 14, pgs. 56-57), is a powerful testament to the grave misgivings some SEIU staffers had about what they were asked to do in Fresno.

Here’s what O’Brien testified:

I did not come forward before this time to personally offer a declaration out of fear of possible retribution from my employer SEIU Healthcare PA. I have recently found other employment in the Labor Movement. I did, however, strongly feel that unethical and unlawful conduct was taking place, which is why I provided [Alexandra Early] with a copy of the briefing document once she told me, after the election, that it would be an important piece of information for PERB to have.

I strongly agree with the characterizations made in [Early’s] declaration of the false and misleading nature of the claims that we SEIU staff were instructed to make by this briefing document. I have come forward because I believe that what SEIU staff were doing and the directives we were receiving was unethical.


Testimony from Fresno Caregivers

As mentioned above, the complaint filed by NUHW includes the testimony of two SEIU whistleblowers and the sworn affidavits of Fresno caregivers Adriana Gomez (Exhibit 9, pgs. 28-29), Sheri Davis (Exhibit 10, pgs. 31-33), Patricia Barbosa Rodriguez (Exhibit 11, pgs. 35-42), Mary Townsend (Exhibit 12, pgs. 43-45), Irma Orozco (Exhibit 13, pgs. 48-49) all giving clear examples of SEIU misconduct in the Fresno homecare election.

Here are direct quotes from their testimony:

Carlos asked to see how I had marked my ballot. I showed him the ballot, which had already been marked for the “Red” team. Carlos then told me that if the Red team won the election my hours might be cut.  Carlos then took my ballot and made a mark for the SEIU team. Carlos also told me to put my initials on the ballot which I did.

Adriana Gomez

I watched two persons dressed in purple T-shirts wearing “SEIU” badges open my mailbox which is located in front of my home just outside the gate. They removed something from my mailbox at which point I opened the door and they quickly closed the mailbox.

After catching the SEIU employees rifling through my mail they came to my door and showed me an envelope which they said was my ballot. They opened the ballot and showed it to me and showed me where to mark the ballot.

Sheri Davis

On one day the purple people came to my home and told me that they would return every day until I voted for them.

On another day the purple people asked me if I knew that they were a big and powerful union in this country and that they could make sure my hours were taken away from me. In this same conversation they asked me if I was living in the United States legally because if not immigration might find out and I could be deported.

Patricia Barbosa Rodriquez

On one particular day, two such persons dressed in purple with SEIU name tags knocked on my front door and I didn’t answer. The persons began to knock very hard on the front door repeatedly until my daughter answered the door. At the same time, my telephone rang and I answered. A  man’s voice on the telephone identified himself as SEIU and stated that there were SEIU people at my home that would assist me in marking and mailing my ballot.

During the telephone conversation mentioned above I told the man on the phone that I was going to vote “red” and he became very forceful. He stated that if I voted red I would lose my hours and my benefits. He state that the red union did not have the money and the power that SEIU had, and that the red union would spend all the money it received from members without providing any benefits.

I spoke with the persons at my front door, who identified themselves as SEIU employees, and were waving a piece of paper at me which I believe was my ballot.

During the time when I was speaking to the man on the telephone as well as the people at my door I was frightened and felt very pressured by their behavior as well as the man’s statement that I would lose my hours and benefits.

The man on the telephone frightened me and I believed that my ability to make a living and support my family was at risk unless I voted for SEIU as he told me to.

Mary Townsend

The people from the purple team told me that they were very powerful people and that they had lots of money to do whatever they want and that they were the only union that could protect me.

They told me that if I did not vote for them I will lose my hours, my job and all my benefits that they were given me  already.

Irma Orozco



The proper response to this testimony should be to call for an investigation.

The need for an investigation into SEIU’s conduct during the Fresno election is urgent and compelling. At the final ballot count, SEIU held a razor-slim margin of 200 votes out of 6,000 cast with hundreds of uncounted ballots. The free choice of workers to decide which union represents them in Fresno is at question.

If these serious allegations regarding SEIU’s conduct in the Fresno election are not investigated, what can workers seeking fair elections free of intimidation anywhere expect?


Sign the petition

What NUHW is asking is that the public consider the testimony of Fresno caregivers and SEIU whistleblowers and join California healthcare workers and their allies to call on the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to conduct a thorough investigation of SEIU’s conduct in Fresno.

We are confident that an investigation of the Fresno election will show that SEIU’s organizers broke state law in their interactions with voters and that SEIU leaders specifically instructed their organizers to do so.

Please join us and SIGN THE PETITION calling on the PERB to conduct a thorough investigation of SEIU’s conduct in the Fresno election.


{Paul Delehanty is an employee of  NUHW, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, a vibrant and democratic movement of healthcare workers, dedicated to dignity, justice, and healthcare for all. You can express your solidarity with the workers building NUHW by joining our FACEBOOK page and following us on TWITTER.}

One thought on “Serious charges against SEIU in Fresno”

  1. On Nov. 19, Southern California caregivers met with the National Labor Relations Board in Los Angeles to ask them to stop blocking election for thousands of healthcare workers to join NUHW.

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