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Mendocino County Today: August 6, 2012

HOW MANY of Mendo’s 700 or so members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) (mostly County employees) know that SEIU is considered by many critics to be run by one of the most, if not the most out-of-touch leadership groups of any union in the United States? David Moberg, long-time senior editor of In These Times, a labor-friendly weekly magazine, recently published an investigative piece titled “Wrong Union For the Job: SEIU wants to lead a campaign against the 1%. Critics wonder if it can.” A few even wonder if it even wants to.

SEIU IS AT LEAST as important as fund-raising arm for the national Democratic Party as it is for their members. And many of SEIU's newest members have not been obtained by old-fashioned organizing. They're the result of “mergers” (i.e., pirating) existing unions. SEIU now claims to have about two million paying members. Mendo's County employees pay between $25 and $40 each in monthly dues for which they get, well, not much of anything, but do the math. The Mendocino County local sends far more to SEIU headquarters than it gets back in representation, with a lot of that money going to professional corporate Democrats.

UNTIL RECENTLY, SEIU was run by uber-Clintonion Andy Stern who never saw a Democrat he didn’t like, no matter how anti-union they might be. In 2009, Stern famously took a plane ride to China in WalMart’s private jet with WalMart CEO Lee Scott. In 2010 Mary Kay Henry was elected President of SEIU after a bitter “executive board fight,” and no fight is more bitter than one among grasping liberals. Ms. Henry's SEIU spouts slogans like creating “member organizers” and “member leaders” who will be “champions of the 99%” and “change the national conversation.”

THE LEADERSHIP basically champions itself and hack Democrats. SEIU is a top-heavy, topdown union which gives very little autonomy to its locals and which is willing to conspire with management (both government and corporate) if they see an opportunity to snag more paying members.

A RECENT PRESS RELEASE from SEIU headquarters gives a hint of how top-heavy they are: “Eleven New International Executive Board (IEB) Members Elected; Two Executive Vice Presidents Named. Also at this week's meeting, the board elected four new vice presidents: Edgar Romney, Noel Beasley and Alex Dagg from the Workers United conference and Kim Cook of SEIU Local 925, who was already a member of the IEB. Seven other leaders were also elected to the board, including Neal Bisno (SEIU Healthcare PA), Laphonza Butler (SEIU Local 6434), Marge Faville (SEIU Healthcare Michigan), Mark Fleischman (Workers United), Lynne Fox (Workers United), Sergio Salinas (SEIU Local 6) and John Tanner (SEIU Local 721). The IEB also elected two new Executive Vice Presidents: Workers United President Bruce Raynor and SEIU Director of Property Services Mitch Ackerman.”

AND THIS DOESN'T even count all the well-paid “executive vice presidents” at the larger locals.

MS. HENRY is co-founder of SEIU's “Lavender Caucus,” a gay and lesbian group. She and her partner, Paula Macchello, a “senior strategic organizer” with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, are advocates for LGBTQRSUVWXYZ rights,  an acronymn that would seem to include every sexual practice known to human kind. (We were lost after LGBT.) Most unionized workers, a shrinking minority of all persons who work for wages, now face an economic squeeze not seen in this country since the 1930s are more worried about food and shelter than they are the lavender issues.

WITHIN DAYS of Stern's resignation announcement, four of SEIU’s multitude of Executive Vice Presidents fired off an e-mail announcing their support for Henry: “Mary Kay's greatest strength is her ability to build consensus and create a highly effective team around shared goals and responsibilities. Mary Kay is the type of leader who motivates rather than demands.” the Big four went on to say that Henry should get Stern’s job “to return to organizing as our top priority” and “to restore our relationships with the rest of the union movement and our progressive allies.”

WORKERS AT KAISER hospitals testified before the National Labor Relations Board that management had helped SEIU defeat the smaller National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) in a 2010 election battle between the two unions to represent 43,000 Kaiser employees. The NLRB found SEIU guilty of unfair labor practices, citing instances of management collusion in those acts, and ordered a re-run of the election. The collusion involved making promises to management that if management stayed neutral while SEIU tried to recruit the healthcare workers away from the NUHW union, then the SEIU would be a much more malleable negotiator when the time came.

WHEN WE GOOGLED “SEIU accomplishments” the only website with a substantive response about successful union gains in specific labor-management disputes was for a Canadian SEIU local. Everything else is generalized bragging about organizing and recruiting and the wonderful bigness of SEIU. Ms. Henry and her executive staff, of course, pull down annual salaries of better than $200k.

SEIU EXECUTIVES also make it clear that criticism is unwelcome. “It’s time to have more dialogue,” said one SEIU member quoted by Moberg. “There’s a top-down mentality. It has to be bottom-up.” And Roxanne Sanchez, president of California SEIU Local 1021, who was outraged by SEIU-UHW’s actions on behalf of hospital managers, said, “SEIU is going to have to be on one page [about standing with the 99%] and not have this contradiction where the public asks, ‘What are you really for?’”

MOBERG finishes his piece with the line from the old union ‘Which side are you on?’ But a more literal interpretation of Ms. Sanchez’s question might be in order: “What good is a union that’s primarily interested in recruiting more members and not fighting for better pay and working conditions?”

MS. HENRY, like her predecessor, doesn’t exactly follow in the footsteps of former International Longshore Workers Union President Harry Bridges. As Bridges biographer Luke Crafton wrote: “Harry Bridges understood the importance of approaching both the rostrum and the bargaining table with clean hands. On the East Coast, the longshore union was notorious for the corruptibility of its leadership, but Bridges, based in San Francisco, couldn't be bought. He was as clean as any trade union leader in the history of the country. In more than 40 years as leader of the ILWU, Bridges never took a salary higher than the highest paid member of his union.”

CONGRESSMAN MIKE THOMPSON rolled out in Sunday's Chronicle against fair application of the inheritance tax. “People spend a lifetime building a winery and vineyard, and then they have to end up selling either the winery or the vineyard to keep the rest of the property,”  Thompson, said without naming the grape unfortunates in this situation.

THOMPSON said he wanted to exempt all farmland that remains in farming, which was too extreme even for Republicans. “If I leave you $50 bazillion in gold bars, that's a whole different thing,” Thompson said. “But to put somebody out of business I just think is terribly wrong.”

OBAMA wants to return the estate tax to its 2009 level, a 45% rate on inheritances over $3.5 million or $7 million per couple, which is far below the 55% rate on inheritances over $1 million before the Bush tax cuts were imposed.

Thompson in his vineyard

BUT THOMPSON, citing an unnamed wine family (himself?) and a private individual who allegedly owns “30,000 acres of Humboldt County ranchland” (Names!) said that the descendants of these entities would be driven to the poor house if they have to pay 45%.

THE CHRON'S Carolyn Lochhead wrote, “Only 1,335 California estates paid the tax in 2010, the latest year for which the Internal Revenue Service provides data. Because the figure reflects deaths in 2009, that's about how many Californians would pay the tax each year under the Democratic plan. Those estates forked over more than $3 billion in taxes.”

THE DEMOCRAT'S PLAN: raise the tax to 45%, with the first $3.5 million, or $7.5 million per married couple, exempt. Nationwide, 7,200 estates would pay $21.3 billion next year.

THOMPSON'S SAYING that a couple of his constituents, most of whom have very little or nothing to pass along to their heirs, think they should be exempt period because they're allegedly land rich and cash poor.

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