Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Brief History of the UHW Trusteeship

Disclaimer: This article is intended to provide an accurate portrayal of all the factors and issues that led to the trusteeship of SEIU-UHW. It is my belief that democratic unions are the strongest and that trusteeship (or the removal of a local union’s democratically elected officers) should only be done as a last resort to correct significant corruption; never on the basis of political disagreements. Most of the issues referenced here have been discussed extensively in other media, so I will refer to those without going into a great deal of discussion about the particularities. I make frequent use of hypertext links and I encourage you to read those as well.

UHW Trusteeship is a labor union related gossip site which publishes rumors, speculation, assumptions, opinions and conjecture in addition to accurately reported facts. Information on this site may or may not be true and makes no warranty as to the validity of any claims.

I created this blog as an unpaid volunteer to correct the deliberate rewriting of history that SEIU leaders have been trying to perpetuate in order to confuse workers, so that they can pull off an undemocratic destruction of a vibrant, militant local union. SEIU's mendacity is stunning in its complete disregard for reason, facts, and history; e.g., the campaign theme of virtually every election of long-term care workers is to have these workers "stay united in SEIU-UHW" when they have stated the contrary under oath, but I digress. Enjoy the blog and email me with suggestions, questions, and curses.

Ideological Differences

Essentially the crux of the dispute between the elected leaders of Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers-West (SEIU-UHW) and the International union boils down to a dispute over when, why, and how to organize new members. The UHW school of thought argued that growth is essential to preserving standards, but that such growth must come from a position of worker strength and worker involvement. The stated position of the SEIU camp is that growth itself is the priority in order for labor to maximize its power for future gains ( ).
To increase worker strength and worker involvement, UHW believed that union democracy was imperative to:

• a) explain to the rank and file members that future gains in their largely unorganized industry would be difficult as long as so much of the industry remained unorganized
• b) develop rank and file leaders at the facility to enforce their contracts on the job, so that more resources of the union could be spent organizing non-union workers
• c) have workers fight in their collective bargaining agreements for rights making it easier for non-union workers to organize
• d) have the rank and file leaders participate in the process of organizing their non-union counterparts
• e) increase democratic decision making and capacity at all levels of the union
• e) commit to consistently bring the newly organized workers to the standards established by the current members ( ).

The SEIU philosophy differs in practice by emphasizing growth over other aspects of the union, such as standards and democracy. One example is the Nursing Home Alliance agreement negotiated by SEIU, which allowed California unions to organize nursing homes in the state, but with significant restrictions on their pre-negotiated contracts. In these templates, workers’ wages and benefits are not guaranteed in contract. Wages were based on the ability of the union to pass political legislation, regardless of the profitability of nursing home corporations. Additionally, the Nursing Home Alliance agreement eliminated
• right to strike after the contract expires
• right to grieve discipline other than termination
• right to arbitrate all aspects of the contract
• right to advocate for the residents of nursing homes through regulatory agencies ( )

SEIU’s Tenet Healthcare negotiations are another example of SEIU’s “growth itself is more important than members’ rights” philosophy. International staffers held closed door meetings without any representation from the thousands of rank and file Tenet workers affected by this contract, and those same staffers agreed to subcontract up to 12% of union members’ jobs! ( & )

This disagreement in basic philosophy resulted in the tragic trusteeship of SEIU-UHW and the creation of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). I will discuss the events that led to trusteeship, with the hope this will help clarify some of the misinformation that is circulating.
In 2003, Local 250 entered into the Nursing Home Alliance with what was then Local 434B in Southern California. This agreement allowed for a certain number of nursing homes to be organized in exchange for both unions and SEIU advocating for rate reform at the state level. The contracts that were pre-negotiated significantly undercut the standards of Local 250’s existing nursing home contracts as previously mentioned.
Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers-West, Local # 2005 (SEIU-UHW) was created in 2005 merging Locals 250 and 399 through the recommendations of both the respective executive boards and through a secret ballot vote of the membership of each local. If either local had rejected the merger, the merger would not have happened. At the time the President of the Union was Sal Rosselli, who had been initially elected president of Local 250 as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in a Bay Area nursing home. Shortly after the new union was created, regular elections were held for all officers. The overarching philosophy of SEIU-UHW was that all California healthcare workers should be in one industrial union to maximize the power of workers within an industry that is increasingly moving away from traditional institutional care and towards in-home care and the use of subcontractors ( ).

Soon thereafter most California locals were forced to participate in jurisdictional hearings, which were designed “to review jurisdiction, including possible merger and/or consolidation of local unions, for workers in California” ( ). UHW’s position was that all healthcare workers should be in UHW, given its superior record of establishing standards for private sector hospital, public sector hospital, nursing home, and homecare workers. The Hearing Officers (appointed by SEIU’s Andy Stern, with very little practical autonomy) initially recommended that UHW’s public sector hospital workers and long term care workers be transferred to the new SEIU Locals 1021 and 6434 respectively. The Executive Board of UHW felt that there was no way they could accept this outcome as SEIU’s appointee, Tyrone Freeman, was not trustworthy. Furthermore, he had no plan for long-term care workers to achieve the wages and benefits of Hospital workers.

Upon being notified by UHW President Sal Rosselli of his willingness to resign from the International Executive Committee and campaign against this decision, the International Union backed off the transfer of the long-term care workers, but stated that the issue would be taken up again in the future.

UHW spent the next several months burnishing its credentials to establish itself as the right union for long-term care workers, or at least to force the rest of SEIU to bring its long-term care strategy in alignment with UHW’s. Specifically, UHW had spent the last few contract cycles lining up the expiration dates so that over 100 nursing homes would all have their contracts expire in 2008, along with tens of thousands of hospital workers. The intent was for nursing home workers to make significant strides towards the wages and benefits of hospital workers.
Simultaneously, SEIU was actively endorsing the approach of SEIU 6434, i.e. expanding the Alliance without moving toward hospital worker standards or elimination of the template contracts. This led to Sal Rosselli resigning once and for all from the SEIU Executive Board in February of 2008, so that he could campaign against the direction of SEIU ( ).

Long Term Care Vote

UHW then had an independent agency, Mediation and Conciliation Services, conduct a vote of all UHW homecare and nursing home workers to determine whether they wanted to remain united with hospital workers or to be placed in a long term care only union. With over 35% participation, the 65, 000 members voted by a 97% margin to remain in UHW. ( ).

Perhaps because he didn’t like the results of the vote, Andy Stern sent a letter to Sal Rosselli alleging that this was a phony ballot scheme to confuse members. ( ).

SEIU Charges Against UHW

UHW leaders created a 501c(3) Patient Education Fund to advocate for healthcare reform and to explain to the general public the role of healthcare unions and union democracy in the reform debate. This is one of several 501c(3)s that UHW set up. The entire elected Executive Board voted unanimously to do this and who the officers would be.

UHW officers voted to move up to $6 million into this fund and actually transferred $3 million into the fund. This is the $3 million that SEIU keeps referring to in every press release, which are worded to falsely give readers the impression that NUHW leaders kept this money for nefarious means.

SEIU then announced a lawsuit against the officers of UHW to return the funds to the Union’s treasury. While UHW felt it was completely lawful to have such a fund, it returned all funds, save some legal fees and a small amount that was used to publicize the results of the above mentioned long-term care workers advisory vote.

The lawsuit was then dismissed (
A number of pro-union academics signed a letter of support for UHW and urged the International not to use trusteeship to squelch political debate. President Stern responded with a letter to these academics stating that talk of trusteeship was “puzzling” and 47 SEIU International Vice Presidents also sent a letter stating that no such trusteeship was being considered, nor would they approve one ( ).

Interestingly, Andy Stern’s appointed monitor to investigate the funds of the Patient Education Fund had already been provided copies of all expenditures of the fund the were later used as a basis for trusteeship. One would assume that he communicated this information to President Stern ( ).

SEIU International Convention

SEIU began publicizing its Justice for All framework, which provided a number of references to speaking with one voice, but little concrete protections for the standards and rights of individual union members ( )

UHW proposed as an alternative its Platform for Change, which called for direct election of SEIU officers by secret ballot, the guarantee of members’ right to elect representatives to negotiations, the guarantee of members’ right to ratify contracts, and the creation of a national strike fund ( ). Every one of the UHW amendments was systematically argued against by SEIU leaders and unsurprisingly killed in committee. The SEIU platform did away with the democratic unity councils and gave the IEB authority to appoint bargaining committees, removing this power from local unions and their members.

SEIU’s Attack Against UHW

For months SEIU systematically tried to stifle the UHW dissent. Mailings were frequently sent from other SEIU locals to UHW members attacking the leadership of UHW. One widely circulated email written by SEIU International staffer Bill Ragen to other SEIU operatives outlined one such plan ( ).

The attacks against UHW used three tactics:

1. Long-term Care Jurisdictional Hearings and Advisory Vote: SEIU announced plans to continue the unresolved issue of the long-term workers in the state of California with the desired outcome of 65,000 members being moved undemocratically from UHW.

2. Attacking the Ability of UHW to Operate and the Credibility of UHW Leaders: Examples of this are frequent mailings by 6434 with the reported approval and direction of chief SEIU officers, e.g., Tom DeBruin (

3. Trusteeship Threat: In August of 2008, after the dismissal of the lawsuit, SEIU announced plans to conduct trusteeship hearings to determine if a trusteeship should be imposed on UHW (

Long-term Care Jurisdictional Hearing

It is very important to remember that Gerry Hudson and the International’s official position was to move all UHW long-term care workers into Local 6434, under the leadership of Tyrone Freeman. SEIU-UHW members and leaders had already voted overwhelmingly against this course of action.

SEIU was unable to make an effective case of how UHW long-term care members would be better served in a long-term care only union to these members. Furthermore, UHW leaders and members were very concerned about the ethics of Tyrone Freeman. UHW members were so motivated against this that over 5000 members made the trek to Manhattan Beach, CA to protest this action (

Despite these concerns, SEIU paid Leonard Page to be the hearing officer and he unsurprisingly found that California should have a separate long-term care union. ( ).

SEIU Corruption Scandal

Shortly before Leonard Page issued his decision, a series of articles appeared in the Los Angeles Times accusing a significant number of Stern SEIU appointees of significant financial impropriety for personal gain (at no point was it ever even alleged that UHW leaders were to benefit from the purported misuse of funds).

Examples of this were Tyrone Freeman misusing over $1 million for a bogus video production company, childcare schemes run by his in-laws, and elite cigar bars; Rickman Jackson, head of the Michigan healthcare local, using his house as part of Freeman’s scheme; and Annelle Grejeda paying her boyfriend a double salary (,,

Interestingly, all those accused of impropriety, except Freeman, are still receiving paychecks from SEIU.

Trusteeship Hearing and Decision

SEIU hired and paid Secretary Ray Marshall to serve as the hearing officer. He was assisted throughout the process by SEIU International staff attorneys. UHW asked for a jointly selected hearing officer but was refused. Secy. Marshall could not be presumed to be impartial.
UHW presented a case that the key issue of the dispute, i.e. whether UHW was trying to create a shadow fund in the event of trusteeship, virtually boiled down to an accounting dispute. UHW’s independent auditors even stated that the funds were always under UHW control (, (Kupperberg)).

Despite the fact that in over 70 years, every single time the International President selected a hearing officer to conduct trusteeship hearings the affected locals were all placed in trusteeship, Secy. Marshall did NOT recommend trusteeship. While he did find that the Union misused funds in fighting the Intl., it was not sufficient to call for a trusteeship. Instead, he proposed a number of steps to ameliorate the dispute ( , & ).

The UHW Executive Board agreed to all of the hearing officer’s recommendations, but proposed specific modifications around a year long reconciliation process with SEIU and then a democratic vote of the 65,000 members into the long-term care local and that UHW will be able to maintain control of its bargaining relationships :

“Instead, Rosselli was now proposing a yearlong ‘reconciliation process’ involving a timeline, unspecified benchmarks and an outside mediator -- all of which would, in about a year's time, result in a vote being taken by the affected UHW members on whether they wanted to join the new super-local. At the heart of his proposal, Rosselli said, was the need for his members to elect their own leaders and not have them appointed by Stern . . . “
( ).
On January 27, 2009, Andy Stern issued a trusteeship order.


First, it’s important to remember what trusteeship is i.e. the removal of all the entire democratically elected executive board of a union and the suspension of the members’ constitution and bylaws; all authority is then replaced by the appointed trustee(s). In essence, it is replacing a representative democracy with a dictatorship.

Next, it’s important to remember that UHW was not trusteed for financial malpractice, but for refusing to comply with the directive to undemocratically transfer long-term care members out of the union. Secy. Marshall states, “In view of the foregoing, I recommend that the International Executive Board not establish a trusteeship on the basis of the specific issues raised in the Amended Notice . . .” ( & )

Finally, under trusteeship the members of a local union have no right to elect officers for up to 3 years. At the end of that 3 years, the union can be modified to the point where the members don’t have the right to elect officers for another 3 years.

On January 28, 2009, the democratically elected officers made the determination that reform was no longer possible within the framework of SEIU, so they created the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) ( ).

Within 2 months, an absolute majority of workers at facilities representing 100,000 workers, had petitioned with the different government agencies to leave SEIU for NUHW ( )

SEIU began a legal strategy to overwhelm and intimidate NUHW leaders and supporters and to prevent workers from voting. ( & )
Fresno Homecare Election

The first significant contest occurred in Fresno County among the 10,000 Fresno County Homecare workers. SEIU leadership stated that this was the campaign where they would “. . . drive a stake through the heart of the thing that is NUHW.” And they committed to that by bringing in up to 1000 organizers (1 for every 10 workers) and spending up to $10 million. Despite this, out of approximately 6000 votes, SEIU was only able to prevail by 229 votes. NUHW has appealed the election results, due to SEIU’s alleged misconduct and that there are still 500 uncounted ballots. ( ).

Closing Points

1. The core of the dispute between UHW leadership was over member involvement and democracy in unions, particularly around growth.

2. UHW leaders did not use any SEIU-UHW funds for personal gain or to finance NUHW.

3. Long-term care workers voted in an independent vote to remain united with hospital and Kaiser workers.

4. SEIU has refused to allow long-term care workers to have a legitimate democratic vote to determine which union they want to be in.

5. Dave Regan, SEIU appointed trustee, stated under oath that long-term care workers would be moved into the long-term care only union when the NUHW decertification threats were eliminated.

6. Trusteeship is by definition undemocratic.

7. SEIU speaks of workers having free choice nationally, but prevents its workers from exercising that choice.

8. NUHW was formed by the democratically elected leaders of SEIU-UHW.
Further Reading

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