More Stern Answers

This question is from Andrew White:

Why does SEIU 1199 back Republicans in New York instead of fighting for real change by trying to solve the problems of the existing structure in New York?

I understand the need to work within the system, broken or not, to try and help out your constituency but at some point leadership needs to be visionary and look beyond the short term towards creating real change for the long term betterment of the people.

In New York that means getting rid of the old leadership that is blocking reform of state government. That starts with Senate Republicans. It may prove true later that certain Assembly Democrats need to go too but the obvious immediate first step is removing Senate Republicans from majority control.

Why then is SEIU supporting Senate Republicans?

Why the lack of vision?

This one's from Juls:

I would ask him about health care and particular the various proposals at the state level.  I am particularly interested in California, obviously, but we are not the only state with a big push for serious reform to our system.

Tags: Andy Stern, Labor, SEIU (all tags)



Re: More Stern Answers

The SEIU sees it's primary mission as getting benefits for its members. That is self-interest comes first. I think this is unfortunately short-sighted, but entirely understandable. They can't solve the underlying problems of society, so why not go after their piece of the pie just as everyone else does.

The biggest deal along these lines was when the SEIU sided with Pataki and allowed Blue Cross to become for-profit. In exchange they threw $1 billion into the labor pot. This was quickly recovered by the newly privatized Blue Cross as it raised its premiums to unprecedented levels.

As long as the dominant mindset in the US is YOYO (you're on your own) we can't expect to see special interest groups being selfless.

by rdf 2007-02-01 04:32AM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers

Actually the Empire Blue Cross conversion netted more than $2 billion for raises to 1199/SEIU members and money to subsidize a bloated hospital system.  Empire's ability to raise their rates had nothing to do with the conversion to for-profit status - they could have done that as a not-for-profit.  The insurance rating laws do not make any distinction on profit status.

The real disgrace of this deal is that in every other state in which a not-for-profit conversion had taken place, the proceeds had been used to fund a foundation to help provide coverage to the uninsured.  In disfunctional NY, this money was used to provide raises to 1199/SEIU members and to provide another subsidy to hospitals.  It was one shot money for a recurring expense which is a horrible way to govern.

Kudos to Eliot Spitzer who yesterday proposed reforming the NY Medicaid system away from the institutional subsidy program it has become to one that actually provides coverage to individuals.  It is going to be a tough fight but I am behind him 110%.

by John Mills 2007-02-01 05:19AM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers

I'm guessing you're not a low-paid nursing aide.

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-01 07:15AM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers

I have got no problem with raises for low-paid nurses aides.  They work hard but:

1 - You don't finance recurring state expenses like salaries/benefits with the one shot funding from a for profit conversion.  It is bad fiscal policy and I have a major problem with that.  You can't run government programs without proper revenue streams - it is that simple.  How do you support these increases you have now built into the budget when this funding runs out?  It is this type of budgeting that leads to severe fiscal crisis down the road.

2 - I am very concerned about the fact that the conversion funds were not put into a foundation which used the proceeds to decrease the uninsured as has been done in every state where this has occurred.  I think it is nothing short of disgraceful.

3 - NY has a bloated, expensive health care system which is largely financed by Medicaid.  We pay more than 2 times what California, not a cheap state to live or work in, does per capita for the same benefit package.  This is largely to finance large teaching hospitals in downstate NY which are undergoing an unprecedented building boom creating more unneeded hospital beds at a time when more and more procedures are done outpatient.  

4 - Yes it means jobs for union members but it also means that 40% of the NY budget is used to finance health care institutions not actually provide coverage to people.  How is it done?  Through pools for graduate medical education which is also financed by the fed government, indigent care pools based on historic use rather than actual use, Medicaid payment formulas that are 25 years old, etc.  

I support unions but it is not the job of state government to prop up unneeded hospitals and nursing homes when those funds are could be much better used to ensure more NYers have health coverage (maybe cover everyone in the state) and increase education financing in under funded areas.  Governing is about making tough choices and for too long, in my opinon, NY has taken the path of least resistance.  I am glad I have a Gov who is tackling these real problems.

by John Mills 2007-02-01 09:56AM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers

Thanks Matt, I appreciate your posing the question and thanks Andy I appreciate your answer. I have great working relationship with local SEIU people and a healthy respect for their, and your, efforts.

Unfortunately I am still left wondering about long term vision. New York is a mess. Our health care system is failing in part because of that mess. Lack of funding for hospitals and other providers, problems with medicaid, lack of mental health parity, far too many uninsured, and general paralysis are all a result of a failing state government.

If SEIU is going to support Republicans then I would urge SEIU to insist that those Republicans work for reform so that we can get to root causes rather than scratching out a benefit here or creating band-aid policy there.

Also, I find it interesting that you mention the Working Families Party. The WFP is currently working hard for Democrat Craig Johnson in the State Senate special election while SEIU 1199 has endorsed the Republican Maureen O'Connell and is working on her behalf.

It is my belief that it is time for SEIU to make the strategic shift to supporting democrats and insisting that as part of that support they reform New York State so that a stronger health care system that benefits all New Yorkers, and SEIU members in the process, can be achieved.

Otherwise, insist that the Republicans you support... Joe Bruno in particular... take up real reform of state government as a condition of continued support.

Thank you for your time and openness.



by Andrew C White 2007-02-01 05:28AM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers

I agree with your comments especially.  Supporting the Republicans for State Senate bothers me so much.  In my state senate district, the 3rd, the unions (not sure about SEIU in particular, the Teachers unions though) supported the Republican incumbent instead of siding with the more progressive, labor-friendly Democrat.

By all means, SEIU shouldn't support any Democrats who work against union interests.  But when unions support the opponents, it forces the Democrats to look for another constituency.

And sorry, but wasn't Pataki one of the most outspoken critics of the MTA workers strike last year?  From

'New York Gov. George Pataki chastised union members for "recklessly endangering the health and safety of each and every New Yorker." '

I love the SEIU and most of their goals, but there is no long term vision in supporting NYS Republicans.  I hope once the Democrats take the state senate, whenever that may come, SEIU will reevaluate where they put their money.  Glad to see that they are supporting O'Connell in the special election to keep us farther from taken the State Senate.

by John Nicosia 2007-02-01 06:17AM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers

Two thoughts cross my mind on this, and both put me in Stern's camp: first, I'm sensing a willingness on some posters to sacrifice the good at the altar of the perfect; but more importantly, where is the evidence that Spitzer even asked seiu to sit at the table to address those broader issues? There ain't no evidence, because he didn't try. He did the all too typical dem move of getting elected by a huge margin, then decided to show folks that he'll stand up to anyone - and then he whacks the worker bees to show everyone he ain't in the union's pocket. Yeah, Elliot, show how tough you are - beat up on a core constituancy. Maybe he should rent a room to holy Joe while he's at it.  

by thelonius 2007-02-01 11:41AM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers

Maybe Spitzer doesn't want to work with them because they are not interested in pursuing his agenda of actually expanding health care access and coverage.  This is the same union that supported George Pataki for re-election in 2002 and is fighting, as we speak, to keep the NY State Senate in Repub hands.

I am a big supporter of unions.  They serve an important purpose but like with everything not all are created equal.  This one is not one of my favorites because they are neither progressive nor interested in supporting a reform agenda.  Instead, 1199/SEIU has teamed up with the hospitals to preserve a status quo that is expensive and doesn't work to the advantage of average NYers.

by John Mills 2007-02-01 06:29PM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers

There are more than 100,000 seiu members in New York. Spitzer is a democrat. How the hell does a democrat not talk to one of the largest unions in the state? If he met with them, and the sides ended up on opposite sides, I'm sure Spitzer would not be too shy to mention it. BTW, everybody knew that Pataki was gonna bury any of his dem opponents back then, and although I'm not from New York, I sure haven't heard or read much about the dem leadership reaching out to Rivera or Stern about reaching long term solutions. Spitzers actions are bullshit. You don't start of your first term by kicking your base in the nuts. I'm sick of that crap.

by thelonius 2007-02-02 10:45AM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers

I am from NY and I am going to tell you right now 1199/SEIU, at least at the leadership level, is not the base of the Dem Party.  They are currently financing the trashing of Craig Johnson, the Dem candidate for an open LI Senate seat.  This is an important race b/c the Dems are very close to capturing the State Senate which is the last bastion of Repub power in this state.

I really dislike 1199/SEIU as they are out for themselves and for perpetuating a disfunctional system that supports huge salaries for hospital execs downstate and some benefits for their members at the expense of expanding health coverage and funding other programs.  

I am pro-union and really like what Andy Stern is doing on a national level - it is about time we had innovative labor leadership.  It is unfortunate that this local doesn't really share his vision.

by John Mills 2007-02-02 11:42AM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers

You argued that SEIU needs to support Democrats.  Well, SEIU almost always supports Democrats because Democrats tend to be labor-friendly.  The argument they need to make a strategic shift to supporting Democrats is based on one data point where SEIU supported a Republican who had been loyal to their workers.

You also argued that SEIU ought to push for health care reform for New York State.  Well, SEIU is pushing for health care reform everywhere, among all elected officials, both Republican and Democratic.

I think this is a case where you have a tactical disagreement with SEIU's political choice.  I would encourage you to accord Andy Stern the good faith he accorded you.

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-01 07:20AM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers

Actually, I might be wrong here.  I wonder how democratic 1199 is, how much this is the choice of members.

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-01 07:41AM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers

Matt - 1199/SEIU has been one of the lynchpins that have kept the Rs in control of the NY State Senate.  They are powerful both in terms of people and money and mainly support Rs in State Senate races including in the upcoming special election on LI.  See the link below: 2/debating-spitzers-health-cuts-in-nassa u.html

Also, 1199/SEIU cut a deal with George Pataki in 2002 to get the Empire Blue Cross conversion funds (the issue over which I am so exercised) in exchange for supporting his re-election.  There is nothing in writing, of course, but it is one of those open secrets.  

I have no problem with Andy Stern - in fact I think he is great.  SEIU's local people in NY are another story.

by John Mills 2007-02-01 10:05AM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers


I'm not sure where you gathered that I wasn't according Andy Stern good faith. Quite the opposite.

However, I do disagree with SEIU's decision making process in supporting New York Republican State Senators. While I gave only the one example of the current special election (because it is the current example) the fact is that they support the Senate Republican Leadership  (Joe Bruno) which means they support Senate Republicans pretty much across the board.

Please understand... these are my friends and colleagues I am disagreeing with here. My original question and my response to Mr. Stern's reply recongized the reasons why they support Senate Republicans in New York... but we remain in disagreement about the long term strategy involved.

Also, I urged them not to support health care (which is a given since that is their bread and butter) but rather that they support governmental reform which is the single most important issue in New York today. Without serious reform of New York State government we will remain locked in the current broken system and the sort of health care improvements that SEIU is looking for, and that I too am looking for, will not happen. Instead we'll get a drib here, a drab there, and a broken system that for the most part will continue to get worse.

I disagree with SEIU's strategy... strategy not tactics... and it does not diminish my respect nor does it reflect any lack of recognition of good faith. I have no idea where you got that from Matt. I'll go back and re-read my response in case I somehow mangled my intent so badly that you would somehow draw such a conclusion.



by Andrew C White 2007-02-01 11:17AM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers

Well said.  The fact that 1199/SEIU is fighting for Joe Bruno's candidate in the LI State Senate special election says it all in my mind.

by John Mills 2007-02-01 06:30PM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers


With all due respect, I think you ought to go back and re-read my post. Perhaps you were reacting to anothers post that was considerably less friendly then mine. I've just re-read my response to Andy Stern's reply and your subsequent reply to me and you missed what I was saying on just about every point. In re-reading I don't think I was unclear or disrespectful at all.



by Andrew C White 2007-02-01 11:24AM | 0 recs

What Stern seems to be saying (and it makes sense from his perspective) is basically "we got ours". Meanwhile, New York has the highest healthcare costs in the country.

As to O'Connell, sure, she'll vote to keep the dollars flowing to SEIU, but that doesn't change the fact that she's, among other things, an anti-choice extremist. The partners SEIU is seeking in its quest to extract every penny possible from this state say everything that needs to be said.

Stern is normally someone to look up to, but this cynical maneuvering is frankly disgusting. Sorry. This is no way to build a movement.

by MBNYC 2007-02-01 06:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Unconvinced

What Stern seems to be saying (and it makes sense from his perspective) is basically "we got ours". Meanwhile, New York has the highest healthcare costs in the country.

No, that's not what he's saying.

SEIU is one of the most aggressive players on health care reform to bring down costs.  I really am baffled by this immediate 'burn the witch' attitude towards our genuine allies.

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-01 07:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Unconvinced

The ally of my enemy is not my ally.  Puts me in an awkward stance coming from a union family (both parents).  I love the SEIU, but they aren't working as an ally supporting the Republicans in NYS.  

Even though Chris Shays is the congressman where I go to college, and is typically on the right side of many issues, I supported Diane Farrell for congress and worked my ass off for her.  If a union backed Shays on his record over Farrell, they would be working against their interests, and I'd oppose them on that too.  Same thing with Chafee, same thing with New York State Republicans.

by John Nicosia 2007-02-01 09:17AM | 0 recs

...but from where I'm standing, here in New York, SEIU is aggressive in defending its vested interests. Their work on the national level is entirely commendable, but what they're doing here undercuts it. It's easy to argue, for example, that SEIU's actions in New York show that what they're interested in nationally is not the greater good, but the greater payoff. Conversely, if they fail in their present electoral efforts (and I hope they do), I don't think our Eliot is going to be in too forgiving of a mood. Thing is, he'll be around for a while, and SEIU is going to have to work with him.

This is just bad all around, in short.  

by MBNYC 2007-02-02 07:47AM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers

I'm fine with them supporting the Republicans if the Republicans are more responsive to their viewpoints. Democrats have to earn the union vote, not just inherit it. However, and this is a biggie, if they're going to do that they need to make sure the candidate they endorse very loudly comes out and says they will do whatever the aim in question is, or else there's too much risk of betrayal and party line votes.

by Englishlefty 2007-02-01 11:17AM | 0 recs
Re: More Stern Answers

His healthcare response was a little too Obama-esque for me. There are a lot of Democrats who DO have the political will to "get something done" on healthcare.

I'd also like to hear if he supports a car-insurance health care plan or not.

by adamterando 2007-02-01 12:22PM | 0 recs


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