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Who Will Be The Next NUHW 16?


 

 

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color:#333333″>Oakland lawyer Dan Siegel, who represents these defendants, has been handling cases arising under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) since the 1970s. Yet he has “never seen a situation where an international union was using the federal law designed to protect union democracy to sue union dissidents”—until now.

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color:#333333″>Birth of a New Union
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mso-bidi-font-family:Arial;color:#333333″>NUHW is the National Union of Healthcare Workers, the California union created four years ago after the Service Employees (SEIU) removed elected leaders of its third-largest affiliate and  mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial;
color:#333333″>One way to avoid losing NLRB elections,when you face another union on the ballot, is to put your competitor out of business. SEIU followed-up its unpopular trusteeship with a civil suit in federal court seeking $25 million in damages from 28 founders of NUHW. 

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color:#333333″>The gist of SEIU's case was that the connection between a national union and any of its local affiliates is just like the Bank of America's relationship to branch banks. If the parent company (in this case, SEIU) wants to reorganize a local branch or change its management in any way, there's no legal basis for objecting. Despite being elected by the members, local officers owe a greater “fiduciary duty” to the international union than to anyone else. They must comply with any headquarters directive, even if the workers they represent are opposed to it.

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color:#333333″>Even though the case was tried before a federal judge and white-collar jury sympathetic to this corporate conception of unionism, millions of dollars worth of inflated damage claims were withdrawn or thrown out, and 12 of the original defendants were found blameless.

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color:#333333″>The Price of Dissent mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial;
color:#333333″>Yet, in April 2010, the trial court granted SEIU a $1,578,000 judgment against NUHW and 16 former UHW officers, board members, or staffers accused of diverting organizational resources to help create the new union just prior to the 2009 trusteeship.

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color:#333333″>The defendants personally tagged with half of this damage award were John Borsos, Ralph Cornejo, Marti Garza, Glenn Goldstein, Emily Gordon, Jason Johnson, Mark Kipfer, Gabe Kristal, Barbara Lewis, Dan Martin, Jorge Rodriquez, Sal Rosselli. Fred Seavey, Peter Tappeiner, John Vellardita, and Phyllis Willett. They range from young organizers in their early 30s to veteran labor activists in their 50s and 60s, some with families and mortgages.

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color:#333333″>UNITE HERE, the hotel workers union then assisting NUHW, posted a $900,000 bond to cover NUHW’s organizational share of the judgment while the verdict was appealed. Five defendants decided to pay SEIU, while others have been subject to wage garnishment.

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color:#333333″>SEIU tried to block two defendants’ from declaring personal bankruptcy, succeeding in one case. Some defendants have posted cash bonds to postpone payment during the appeal process, but still owe SEIU $40,000 to $85,000 each.

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color:#333333″>In March of this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the overall judgment. The court found that Section 501 of the LMRDA does, indeed, create a fiduciary duty to the union as an organization—not merely to its rank-and-file members.

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http://fundforuniondemocracy.org/ or by sending a check made out to "FUDR" c/o NUHW, 5801 Christie Ave. (Suite 525) Emeryville, CA. 94608.

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mso-bidi-font-family:Arial;color:black”>(Steve Early has been active in the labor movement since 1972 as a journalist, organizer, lawyer, or national union representative. He is the author of Save Our Unions: Dispatches From A Movement In Distress, forthcoming in November from Monthly Review Press. His previous book, The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor, dealt with intra- and inter-union conflict involving SEIU in California and elsewhere. A shorter version of this article appeared in the August, 2013 edition of Labor Notes. The author can be reached at Lsupport@aol.com)
 

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