All posts by neonatalmichael

On the Ground at the SEIU-UHW Trusteeship Hearing

Yesterday thousands of SEIU United Healthcare Workers – West members gathered at the San Mateo fairgrounds to protest the bogus hearing being held by SEIU International intended to put their member-led local into trusteeship.  UHW members had these responses to SEIU’s stated plan of taking over the local and installing more hand-picked leaders.  

UHW members’ rank-and-file TV spot: Keepin’ It Real 1 of 2

Keepin’ it Real 2 of 2

Check out more coverage from union members on the ground at

Why Is Andy Stern Helping John McCain?

Why Is Andy Stern Helping John McCain?

( Cross posted at )

With all the attention that SEIU has received over rampant corruption in its largest California local, 6434 formerly headed by the disgraced Tyrone Freeman, and Michigan’s largest healthcare Union also formerly headed by, yet again another disgraced leader (Rickman Jackson), and now most recently the resignation of one of Mr. Sterns newly elected top International Vice-Presidents, Anelle Grajeda, for diverting members dues to her former boy friend, one must ask the question: “who does Andy Stern really support for President?” At first glance at the current situation with SEIU Andy Stern’s pick as our next President may seem unrelated to the corruption within SEIU. That is, until you examine closely how Mr. Stern has acted upon the alleged corruption within SEIU.

Instead of aggressively pursuing all available remedies to rid the corruption within the aforementioned SEIU locals and getting back to the business of electing a pro-worker candidate he has instead chosen to expend the vast majority of SEIU’s resources in a personal vendetta against arguably one of SEIU’s most successful union locals, SEIU-UHW West.

Why? Because SEIU-UHW West dared to hold Stern and his “Team” accountable for the inherent promise that SEIU be of the members, by the members, and for the members.

SEIU-UHW West has engaged Stern for close to 3 years in an internal debate over union governance that has challenged the destructive direction Stern has moved SEIU towards. SEIU-UHW West attempted to sound the alarm during the recent SEIU convention in Puerto Rico by bringing to the floor measures that would have ensured and preserved member governance, oversight, and participation at the highest levels of SEIU.

Unfortunately, Stern and his “Team” choreographed a textbook campaign that vilified SEIU-UHW West’s platform as centric only to the needs of SEIU-UHW West and devoid of any conscience for the plight of unorganized workers. He stated that SEIU-UHW West was only interested “in polishing their apples”. Nothing was further from the truth. In fact the platform put forward by SEIU-UHW West expanded the powers of its members and was a threat to Stern’s lust for control, power, and centralization of decision making within SEIU.

Second only to 1199 NY in its COPE contributions (member voluntary political fund) to the International, the leader in California COPE dollars by double the states locals average, and the fastest growing local in SEIU, SEIU-UHW West, instead of being utilized by Stern to ensure that we elect a President sensitive to the needs of the working class, is instead under a vicious and completely baseless attack from Stern and his appointed henchmen and surrogates that includes a threatened trusteeship on false charges of financial mismanagement.

It is important to note that this is Stern’s second bite at this apple. The international recently had their proverbial heads handed to them in the highest court in California on this very issue. The court ruled that the International had no basis for their claims and dismissed all relevant claims made by SEIU with prejudice. Put simply, the court told Stern and his “Team” not to ever bring this frivolous matter before the court again. So now Stern wants to drag SEIU-UHW West thru the mud in an attempt to discredit them as well as distract attention away from the more serious previously mentioned malfeasance (and long known by Stern) of his handpicked appointees, Tyrone Freeman, Rickman Jackson, Annelle Grajeda.

With so much at stake in this years election one must wonder why a personal vendetta against SEIU-UHW West is the highest priority for Mr. Stern. At the SEIU convention in Puerto Rico this year, delegates endured wave after wave of self righteous indignation opposing SEIU-UHW West’s desire to debate internal jurisdictional issues. At stake was the very essence of what it meant to be a healthcare worker; the ability to advocate on behalf of patients, better staffing, improvements in working conditions, and the right to choose in a fair and democratic process what union local to be represented by.

Stern surrogates and appointees made statements calling SEIU-UHW’s arguments selfish and self-serving. One even stated, “People are dying right now as we waste time debating these issues. We have work to do! Let’s get to work!” Staffers from the SEIU continued to echo this same tired line at nausea throughout the debate process.

Certainly the work of electing a progressive pro-working class president falls into the category of “work to do”. And if it does why, with the incredible political fight before us, would Andy Stern sideline his second biggest political weapon against four more years of Bush’s failed policies in order to carry out a personal vendetta against SEIU-UHW West? Stern has time and again issued the battle cry against corporate greed, affirmed his commitment to lift workers out of poverty, and boldly stated that SEIU will lead the battle to get universal healthcare and pass perhaps one of the most ambitious pieces of legislation ensuring workers rights to organize (EFCA).

So it defies logic that at the most critical time in the election process, where so many peoples lives depend on the outcome, Mr. Stern would allow himself to be consumed with forcing a trusteeship upon a union local that has a long and proven history of, not only adhering to the values he claims to hold dearly but, excelling at those same values. And why would Mr. Stern schedule the Trusteeship hearing, not only during the most critical time of the general election but on the exact same dates (September 26-27) that the Obama campaign is attempting to mobilize California supporters to participate in a canvassing effort in neighboring “swing state” Nevada, where Obama trails McCain by 1 percentage point? It begs the question, who ultimately wins if Mr. Stern allows himself to take action against a union local who has the power to help end eight years of failed economic and foreign policies? And whose’ hopes ultimately die if we fail?

Andy Stern prides himself in being a leader in the progressive majority movement. However his current actions fly in the face of his alleged progressive values. He is jeopardizing real reform in our labor movement to fulfill a personal grudge. These are hardly the qualities of a true progressive and reformer and certainly not the qualities that will bring hope and “Justice For All”.

SEIU Convention Opens Next Week

International Union Will Push to Weaken Rank-and-File Members’ Voices

My name is Michael Rivera. I’ve been a Respiratory Therapist for 18 years, specializing in Neonatal and Pediatric Respiratory Care. I’m very concerned about the future of my union, SEIU. This week, I’m going to my first SEIU convention where I’m worried that the grassroots union principles that drew me to get involved will be undermined by SEIU’s Washington-based officials. Along with other UHW members, I plan to post here and at with updates during the convention.

Our International union leadership has put forward an agenda that they’re calling “Justice For All,” which would strip away many of the safeguards for member oversight and governance. What alarms me most about the “Justice For All” platform is that it institutionalizes the practice of weakening the voice of rank-and-file members in national contract negotiations. Their proposal would replace elected bargaining teams with a team appointed by the International president, and it would limit worker involvement to carrying out a plan that was developed by union officials without member input.

By comparison, UHW’s “Platform For Change” proposals ( would guarantee the right of members to oversee bargaining at the highest levels, including during national bargaining. We don’t oppose the goals that SEIU leaders have pronounced, such as helping the tens of millions of non-union workers to organize and win the same rights that we have. But we believe the best way to build power and numbers within the labor movement is through worker leadership. Our employers must view our union as being driven by the interests of the members. Our power to create change in people’s lives rests on whether our employers view us as the driving force behind our union’s agenda or whether our employers simply see our involvement as academic.

SEIU Convention Opens Next Week

Every four years, elected delegates come together to determine the direction of our national union. This year, we’re meeting in Puerto Rico. As delegates, we’ll vote on policy resolutions and amendments to the union’s constitution and bylaws, and we’ll elect the officers and executive board members of SEIU. The convention is important because it’s where we set goals and establish a structure that will determine what this union is able to accomplish.

I’m not expecting a very fair or open decision-making process at the convention. We know from prior conventions the event is heavily scripted and delegate votes sometimes look like rubber-stamp approvals for SEIU’s Washington-based officials. We don’t expect to win our “Platform for Change” reforms at this convention. But we do expect to talk to other union members there and to leave with more relationships and greater power so that our movement to reform SEIU will continue to grow even stronger.

Since real debate probably isn’t going to happen inside the convention itself, I’m looking forward to participating here in an open discussion and debate about these important issues.


SEIU-UHW West’s Delegate Selection Mistake

I wanted to clarify SEIU-UHW West’s Delegate voting issues. I serve on the election committee and this is my personal “mia culpa”, or as the popular vernacular would say, “Am I Bad?” The executive board of SEIU-UHW West has 5 volunteer members, including myself, serving on the election committee to oversee a 150,000-member election.

We had several meetings to establish guidelines for eligibility and one of the questions raised was how, once the membership was informed that the convention was being held in Puerto Rico, do we conduct an election that best served the members while avoiding a run of hopefuls in search only of a free vacation to Puerto Rico?

I believe it was a legitimate question as we were not only acting as an election committee but as Stewards of our fellow members money, and as such wanted to do everything possible to spend dues money wisely. As you can well imagine it will not be cheap to send close to 200 people to Puerto Rico and house them for 4 days on behalf of the members of SEIU-UHW West.

We, as a volunteer member committee asked legal counsel if it would be appropriate and legal to require people to be stewards in order to run as a delegate. Our legal counsel stated in NO uncertain terms that this was lawful because the members at large democratically elected stewards.

Our biggest concern was to ensure adequate representation of our members not to disenfranchise them. Hindsight is always 20/20 and had we been experts in labor law we obviously would have made a different decision. But we are not experts in labor law, we are healthcare workers and patient advocates volunteering our spare time. At this very moment we are volunteering our time to remedy this mistake and will be working around the clock to re-run an election in accordance with applicable Labor law.

Now I would like to contrast that with the SEIU 1021 debacle in which you clearly had staff involved in the election process, with the blessing of SEIU, pushing for specific candidates and subverting the candidates that weren’t “on board” with the International agenda. There are at least some very gray areas here but do you see SEIU urging them to run a second election to avoid the appearance of impropriety? NOPE!!!!

Also interesting to note is that we (SEIU-UHW West) are being harangued for the very process that Andy Stern and other SEIU officers are fighting to protect. The International officers and Mr. Stern are elected every 4 years by a delegate process not a full membership vote. In that respect I believe that the international is making our “One Member One Vote” argument for us. The delegate process for electing officers at all levels should be abolished. Our mistake in the delegate selection process only demonstrates how flawed and endemic this methodology is within SEIU.

To my fellow SEIU-UHW West members who may feel disenfranchised by the delegate selection process I offer my sincerest apology and please know that we are all working very hard on the second election and, if need be, I will again gladly fly from Southern California to Oakland on a moments notice and open, sort, count, and certify thousands of ballots on my day off of work.

Michael T. Rivera, R.C.P.

Perinatal-Pediatric Specialist (Note: Not a Labor Lawyer)

SEIU-UHW West Executive Board Vice President

Real Justice

As I read Andy Stern’s rather verbose diatribe entitled “Just Us” or “Justice for All” I couldn’t help think of how eerily reminiscent Stern’s thought process was to the assertion put forward by President George Bush to the world leaders at large that “You’re either with us or you’re against us”.

Mr. Stern would like us to believe that there are only two distinct questions before us with respect to the direction the SEIU and the Labor Movement can move. The first is to “pursue” what he has characterized as the “Just Us” unionism that seeks only to protect and strengthen current organized workers at the expense of those workers who also would benefit from union membership. Or, as he purports to champion, do we pursue the “Justice for All” approach that “focuses on building a broader movement that improves the living standards and working conditions for all those who have no union…?”

This argument is as flawed and devoid of a broader thought process as President Bush’s argument for unilaterally attacking a sovereign nation was. Like President Bush, Mr. Stern streamlines the issues before us into an overly simplistic choice of good versus evil.

He states that, “This is not an intellectual exercise.” On that I can and do agree. I believe very little intellectual exercise on the part of Mr. Stern was performed before presenting his arguments; otherwise a more detailed and varied list of options might have been presented.

The truth is we do not, as Mr. Stern suggests, have two separate choices before us. In reality, Mr. Stern is excising current members from a fair and democratic process in self-determination while championing a position that allows for an employer friendly way of organizing workers. He as much as says so in the following excerpts from his position paper:

“true worker democracy cannot exist until the 90 percent of workers in America who have no voice gain a union.”

This statement clearly establishes Mr. Stern’s view that we do not currently have a legitimate form of democracy within SEIU and therefore his actions attempting to crush the current reform movement are somehow justified.

What Mr. Stern is attempting to accomplish would be the equivalent of taking away every citizens right to vote until everyone over the age of 18 has registered to vote. The 90 percent worker threshold he defines as the benchmark for a “true worker democracy” gives him and other like-minded leaders an indefinite time period in which to further degrade member governance and oversight. Stern goes on to argue that:

“Was America a true democracy when women or African Americans had no vote

and more than half the population was excluded from the process?”

While it is irrefutable that the history of our democracy was morally repugnant in that it excluded African Americans and women, our country did not evolve to a more fair democracy (true or otherwise) by encroaching on the rights of those who already possessed the freedom to vote. Quite the contrary, our democracy evolved and continues to evolve today by becoming more inclusive in nature. Democracy by its very nature must expand and evolve to survive. Furthermore, African Americans and Women didn’t wake up one morning with the right to vote. There was a long and bloody struggle that lead America to reform its position on voting rights.

And the struggle for social equality continues today. We have a female and African American running for the highest office in the land and yet nobody would fool them selves into believing that if either one is elected to the Presidency that we could declare that we have leveled the socio-economic playing field for women and African Americans or any other group of Americans. But what we can claim is that by including more and more people into the process we come that much closer to a “true democracy”.

Unfortunately under the leadership of Mr. Stern SEIU is moving further and further away from this model of inclusiveness and more towards an Oligarchy in which he directs. Many will say we are already there as more and more union locals are consolidated into larger ones and power is wrested from members by the appointed few.

In reality, Stern’s arguments are, at best, a thinly veiled disguise to tie the SEIU-UHW West member driven reform movement and its platform for change within the SEIU to a long ago abandoned union practice of protecting current union members at the expense of non-union workers, when in fact the members who seek reform are doing the exact opposite.

One needs only to compare the SEIU’s “Justice for All” proposals, which lack any substantive details, to the SEIU-UHW West’s member driven “Platform For Change” which outlines in detail its vision for member rights and democracy, but also has a clear and ambitious vision for bringing more workers into the ranks of the organized.

Conversely the SEIU’s “Justice for All”, in reality, is an oxymoron. Its narrow focus of emphasizing organizing the unorganized at the expense of current members and member democracy is two dimensional, lacks vision, creativity, and underestimates the will and commitment of SEIU’s current members.

It presupposes that there can only be one focused approach to growing our union strength; and that put simply is that we can’t do both organizing and strengthening current member contracts.

That is a position of weakness and the end result, no matter how many members are brought into SEIU, will create a national employer union that addresses very little of the workers concerns and pacifies employer fears over any employee voice in the workplace.

The greatest proponents of having a union in the workplace are the current members who have set the high standards they enjoy and, unfortunately, have become the focus of criticism by the SEIU under the leadership of Mr. Stern for wanting to enjoy the fruits of their labor and their successes. Mr. Stern has stated that current members of SEIU-UHW West are only concerned with “polishing their apple”. This defies logic as SEIU-UHW West members have actively participated, often on their free time, in organizing efforts at the national level that have helped to secure union representation for workers in Florida, Texas, Nevada and other states including active campaigns in Colorado. Additionally, millions of dollars from dues goes directly to SEIU for national organizing campaigns.

On top of that, even with SEIU’s relentless attacks against UHW West, UHW West continues to organize workers in California with close to 2,000 healthcare workers in 4 different elections from Southern California to Northern California voting overwhelmingly to join UHW West in the last 2 ½ weeks alone.

UHW West may in fact be polishing apples. They may even be sinking their teeth deep into them and savoring the sweet juice of success, but they are also telling other workers about those apples and helping them to sow their own seeds that they too may enjoy the fruits of their labor and that is truly “Justice for All”. The vision that Mr. Stern has, that continues to shrink the power and decision making into the hands of a very few, is not “Justice for All”.  Under close scrutiny it is really “Justice for All of us here in D.C.”

Michael Rivera, R.C.P.

Perinatal-Pediatric Specialist

Executive Board Vice-President SEIU-UHW West