The presidential primary wasn't the only thing going on in Puerto Rico this weekend. The Service Employees International Union was generous enough to fly me down here to cover their 2008 convention, which began on Saturday but gets into full swing here tomorrow.

The theme of the convention is "Justice For All," a slogan that acknowledges that the impact of organizing workers goes beyond improving the lives of just those workers. It's also about building longterm infrastructure, it's about establishing on the ground foot soldiers to advance good legislation and support our leaders, and it's about building a political funding mechanism to go after politicians who undermine workers' rights among other progressive priorities; the bottom line is that the ultimate goal of the improvement of workers' wages and benefits is actually to improve the lives of everyone, union members or not. That's what the SEIU's accountability project is about.

After first hearing about the project at Take Back in March, I was pleased to be able to learn more about it from Jon Youngdahl and Stephanie Mueller of SEIU's political division on Sunday. In a nutshell, after November, the SEIU intends to hold our Democratic representatives to their promises and let them know that there is the money, the organization and the will not only to fund primary challenges but to recruit and even train qualified candidates around the country if they don't do what they said they'd do.

What makes this threat real, of course, is that SEIU was instrumental in the defeat of Al Wynn by Donna Edwards in Maryland's February 12th primary. The SEIU spent $1 million on that race alone. Next year and all during the ensuing cycle, they're prepared to spend $10 million to target Democrats who don't follow through on their promises. Think about what the SEIU got for their money in MD-04: Congresswoman Donna Edwards who will champion progressive legislation on issue after issue affecting not only those in her district but impacting people's lives for the better all over the country, as every new and better Democrat added to congress by definition does.

The details of the program are as follows:

  • $10 million fund to take on elected officials who fail to live up to their promises.
  • Calls for SEIU members to make at least 10 million phone calls to members of Congress after the election to hold them accountable.
  • At least 50 percent of the union's organizing budget and 50 percent of its non-organizing staff at the national and local levels will be devoted to the effort
  • A commitment to jump start a much broader, permanent grassroots movement of working people by actively involving at least one million SEIU members in the "justice for all" effort by 2012, and creating leadership roles for at least 200,000 (or about 10 percent of the union's membership).

The issues the SEIU is particularly interested in pursuing accountability on are

  • Affordable, quality health care for all.
  • he freedom for all workers to form a union without employer interference.
  • Quality services in our communities with fair, reliable funding.
  • An economy that rewards all workers, not just a few at the top.
  • Citizenship for hard-working, taxpaying immigrants.

Races will be targeted using several criteria, perhaps most important of which will be what their members on the ground in certain districts are saying. Part of the reason the SEIU got into the MD-04 race was because there was wide-spread dis-satisfaction with Al Wynn from their members in his district. Luckily for our representatives, avoiding a primary challenge isn't terribly difficult: just follow through on your promises and reflect the values and the needs of your voters with your votes in Washington. Now, that's not so hard, is it?

What makes this project especially apt for a 2009 launch is that beginning on January 20th, we're likely to be in a position, with a Democratic president and expanded Democratic majorities, to actually accomplish some real and meaningful progress on issue after issue important to progressives. As Chris and Matt have noted repeatedly at Open Left, Democrats may have majorities in congress, but a conservative governing majority remains. That is likely to change after November. With that change, we as a movement are all going to have to shift into accountability mode, since the people we put in  power will finally be able to wield it. Glad to see the SEIU is already preparing to make that shift.

Tags: Accountability, SEIU, seiu convention (all tags)



Slightly Off Topic, Kinda, But

There seems to be a monumental war gearing up out here in CA between SEIU and CNA. As a new RN out here, it's kinda hard to parse the rhetoric. Both make the other sound kinda evil. I'd hope both parties would have the best interests of their constituents in mind, but I'm honestly confused by all the noise.

Anyway, I hope that SEIU is a very positive influence down in Puerto Rico. All workers deserve to be represented by unions - one big reason I left North Carolina behind!

by RNinNC 2008-06-02 12:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Slightly Off Topic, Kinda, But

You, of course, will make up your own mind. I've met and talked at length with Andy Stern and can say he's committed to a progressive labor movement. No doubt about it.

SEIU is also very aggressive in it's organizing which I believe is a good thing.

Why not visit a local and meet the folks there?

by Pericles 2008-06-02 04:34AM | 0 recs
Oh, I Plan to Further Sort Thru It

Probably shouldn't have hijacked the diary on second thought - kinda inconsiderate. I'm just finishing a shift, and the whole situation is on my mind. Don't have to make up my mind anytime real soon.

Thanks for the input!

by RNinNC 2008-06-02 04:44AM | 0 recs
Re: Slightly Off Topic, Kinda, But

there's a diary you might want to check out all about how the SEIU has interfered in PR unions and strikes. they are pretty PO'ed about some of the heavy handed deals he is making.

by zerosumgame 2008-06-02 11:30AM | 0 recs
Re: Slightly Off Topic, Kinda, But

The rap on SEIU is twofold: one, they're accused of organizing Latinos and neglecting African Americans, and two, they organize so aggressively that they swallow up other unions and replace the leadership.

CNA's feud with SEIU falls under the second category.  I think both unions are protecting their turf and neither have been blameless but there aren't too many principle at play other than that.

by Jess81 2008-06-02 05:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Slightly Off Topic, Kinda, But

I'll tell you that this is an incredibly diverse group here at the convention.  More than almost any other group I can think of.

This union and its leadership is Latino, African American, white, make, female... I see a truly representative crowd around me at the convention.

by davej 2008-06-02 02:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Slightly Off Topic, Kinda, But

I don't doubt it at all.

by Jess81 2008-06-02 10:43PM | 0 recs
North Carolina news...

The largest unaffiliated state workers group in the nation, SEANC (State Employees Association of NC), 55,000 strong,just joined SEIU, and became SEIU Local 2008 with a vote of 80% at their convention in Greensboro. A very big leap for workers' rights in the South.

by Skipster 2008-06-02 07:07AM | 0 recs
Re: North Carolina news...

Never had the opportunity to join an "Association" - much less a Union - back in NC. Great news that there is finally some worker organizing going on in NC, what with their "Right to Work" nonsense. I guess I should feel lucky to have TWO Unions fighting for my loyalty at this point!

by RNinNC 2008-06-02 07:21AM | 0 recs
Great news Todd

Good to hear the SEIU is going after democrats who don't act like them.

by Student Guy 2008-06-02 02:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Accountability

Thanks for the update.

Related, yet not, is the fact that AFSCME's national convention is coming up in San Francisco.  It should be interesting because Gerald McEntee is facing a small internal revolt over the endorsement of Clinton, which he'll no doubt survive because this sort of thing has happened before - in NYC for example the District Council endorsed Giuliani for his second term over the objections of membership - but it will be interesting to see what form it takes.

I'll blog about it if anything interesting comes of it.

by Jess81 2008-06-02 03:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Accountability

This is good news indeed.

Be interesting to see the numbers on this cycle in Congress. That is, how many real progressives do we have a chance to elect. Who they are etc.

I'd really rather not rely on OpenLeft as Chris has a lot of trouble seeing the forest for the giant Obama sized trees.

I'd like to recommend folks on my list to support throught ActBlue! Perhaps Jerome would be kind enough to take a look at the national picture.

I do believe folks are ready to support real progressives no matter where they are running as the case can be made that the only way we'll ever break the hold of the vile Pelosi and the rest of the Bush appeasers in the House is by targeting such as Wyn and....

Taking their war-mongering, Fascist asses OUT!


by Pericles 2008-06-02 04:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Accountability

Union membership is at a low point not seen since the New Deal.

I always been a Union member as an educator, and I have always supported the right of workers to organize and elect representation to look after their interests.

I am now in a small minority in this country.

1.  How is the SEIU going to face the challenge of undoing the anti-Union and anti-Organized Labor rhetoric that has filled the airwaves, and produced a wave of right-to-work (hah!) states in the South, especialy in the fastest-growing states?

2.  We no longer apprentice, train, or employ machinists, tool-and-die makers, steelworkers, factory workers, auto workers, and so many other professions who were the backbone of the Labor Movement.   What kind of message is going to be effective in helping America's new knowledge and green-collar workers understand that Unions are not the problem, but rather the solution to keeping America competitive?  Because that anti-Union message is what they have grown up with.  

by dembluestates 2008-06-02 05:47AM | 0 recs
Where's the Democracy? Where's the Labor Movement?

What an uninspired, suicidal agenda.

The two most fundamental problems facing the labor movement - the lack of internal democracy, and the inability to grow the ranks of unionized workers - are being shoved under the rug for more beltway politics.

"At least 50 percent of the union's organizing budget and 50 percent of its non-organizing staff at the national and local levels will be devoted to the effort."

GOOD FUCKING LORD. AT LEAST 50 percent of the budget responsible for growing and sustaining the rank-and-file?? This is a perfect showing of how frightfully ignorant the unions' "leadership" is to how unions grow and thrive, and how to save the labor movement from its continuous decline.

John L. Lewis must be rolling over in his grave.

by Liberaltarian 2008-06-02 06:54AM | 0 recs
How about some accountability for SEIU leader too?

SEIU was generous in flying you to Puerto Rico because apparently you swallow everything they say with no critical questions. While you are on your SEIU expense paid junket, how about talking to activists in the movement to restore democracy in SEIU, who are fighting against Stern's dictatorial methods?

The United Healthcare Workers-West (now 150,000 strong - except Stern is trying to ram through motions dismantling the local in retaliation) is leading the fight. They have delegates there, so talk to them. Talk to Sal Rosselli, the UHW leader who is under attack by the Stern Gang.

Or while you are there, talk to the Puerto Rican teachers union who are protesting an SEIU raid and strikebreaking. seiu-urged-end-attacks-against-puerto-ri co-teachers,409840.shtml

You can't miss them - those were the pickets outside the SEIU convention that were attacked by police yesterday! uprteachers.htm

See all the documents and video at the UHW site

for the real story of what is happening inside SEIU.

or /front/la-me-union1-2008jun01,0,3587411. story

Or the current issue of The Nation -news/2008/may/labor-s-growing-pains.htm l

Or this video by SEIU nurses who voted to leave

Or this site about how SEIU's real record on nursing issues and health care

I've seen SEIU's "accountability" in action. It's geared only to increasing SEIU official's power. In Colorado, the governor, the Senate leadership, and the House leadership were all publicly committed to full collective bargaining for state employees. SEIU didn't hold them accountable - instead they undermined other unions, cut a separate deal for a weak "meet and confer" (or "meet and beg") representation in an exective order tailored to advantage SEIU and its allies, and then helped push through a ban on state employee strikes (against other unions like CWA and Teamsters that kept fighting for workers rights).

The news has been full of stories about SEIU's secret deals with corporations to undermine workers rights. The SEIU voice disssident web site has all the details.

And how about some accountability for Stern? The SEIU democracy movement is calling for direct election of international officers (the same reform that cleaned up the Teamsters union in the 90s). What about Stern's favoured tactic of trusteeing and merging SEIU locals and then replacing them with appointed leaders? So that now most of the SEIU international board is composed of leaders who owe their power to Stern?

Is Todd Beeton going to talk about that and other democratic reforms being advocated by the dissidents? I don't think so. If Todd did, SEIU would put him on the next plane out of Puerto Rico.

Here is SEIU's real 5 point program:
*More power for Andy Stern
*More power for Andy Stern
*More power for Andy Stern
*More power for Andy Stern
*More power for Andy Stern

SEIU pours money into Democratic races, so it seems a lot of liberals just want to look the other way when it comes to issues of union democracy and defending the rank and file. Just take the money and drink the purple kool-aid is what they do.

PS - This is not an Obama vs Clinton issue. The presidential endorsement is not one of the issues in dispute between SEIU dissidents and the Stern Gang.

by aenglish 2008-06-02 08:57AM | 0 recs
some more links

Puerto Rican Teachers Challenge the Purple Lockdown

The Puerto Rican convention center hosting the Service Employees International Union's big confab is kind of an eerie cross between Superman's Fortress of Solitude and a prison in some isolated part of rural California.

read the rest at

Over Before It's Begun?

Today the die may have been cast for United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW), the 140,000-member local that has been leading a high-profile dispute with its parent body, the Service Employees International Union, over questions of centralization and member control in the union.

read the rest at

Andy Stern has been a big promoter of the Chinese government-sponsored trade union federation, going to China at their invitation. I think his convention is about as democratic. The script was written for it months ago.

by aenglish 2008-06-02 09:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Accountability

I wanted to add to this issue.  My name is Bobby Armstrong and I am a delegate at the SEIU convention in Puerto Rico.  I am a registered nurse at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center and I am Vice President at our local along with an E-Board member for SEIU HealthcarePA.

SEIU plans to utilize their greatest assets, the very members who make are represented here today.  We just watched a "live" signing or a bargaining agreement that will cover international custodial workers employed through ISS.  We realize sitting on our duffs will not keep the labor movement alive.  We encourage members and give them the tools and education they need to make changes in the workplace.  We actively recruit members to become involved in the political field to register and help elect those who support a healthy and strong labor force.

We also share our successes with other countries such as Canada, Australia, and others assisting them in their fight to empower the labor movement and protect working families, along with fighting for the goal of a one payer universal healthcare plan that will offer high quality affordable care for all americans.

Members have always been the driving force of SEIU.  At my facility, members meet monthly to discuss issues and work toward goals that are voted and approved in a majority rule vote.  Members sit on bargaining and we have a member sitting on the negotiation team that represents all departments.  Any changes to our contract whether during negotiations or after an economic reopener require the membership to vote with majority rule.  We offer the opportunity for all members to run for office, delegate, or work area leader and all the education needed to be effective in their positions.  The SEIU PA office offers delegate training and empowerment education free to help members become the best they can be.  
SEIU has exceeded all my expectations and I am one proud RN who eagerly shares my experiences and assist others who look for help in representation and union membership.    

by seiudelegate 2008-06-02 09:25AM | 0 recs


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