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Which side are you on?

September 2nd, 2009  |  Lisa Milam-Perez

>Far be it for me to wade into the increasingly bitter turf wars between the SEIU’s United Healthcare Workers-West (SEIU-UHW) and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), the upstart formed by exiled SEIU-UHW officials. But the dueling unions aren’t doing any favors for organized labor in its fading hopes of passing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) with card-check intact. If it is to capitalize on the most labor-friendly legislative climate in decades, a united front among organized labor is essential. (Isn’t that why Change to Win and the AFL-CIO are in peace talks, after all?) Failing that, at least don’t air the dirty laundry.

But labor can only hope the anti-EFCA folks don’t get their hands on the latest salvo fired off by SEIU-UHW in this internecine skirmish.

SEIU-UHW is embroiled in a dispute with NUHW over the representation of San Francisco home care workers, among others. Currently NUHW is trying to get SEIU-UHW decertified as the home care workers’ bargaining rep, and SEIU-UHW is crying foul. In an August 31 press release, the SEIU called for a hand-examination of each signed decertification card collected by the NUHW, citing more than 1,000 incidents of “lies, coercion, and fraud” in the signature drive.

According to SEIU, members have reported “more than a thousand incidents in which improper tactics were used to coerce workers, their family members, and the people they care for to sign cards by representatives who came to their homes.” The incumbent union contends the same tactics were used in an earlier representation dispute with NUHW, when one-third of the cards collected were found to be invalid when hand-checked.

“Apparently, the only way NUHW believes it can get the number of signed cards they need is by frightening and tricking us into signing,” one worker is quoted as saying—one of a throng who are asking to have their cards returned after NUHW improperly collected signatures, SEIU says.

Sounds pretty ugly.

So the union wants each card and each signature hand-checked against official records to verify the signature—“to protect these workers’ rights and ensure a fair process.”

That’s not the anti-union National Right to Work Committee talking, or the Center for Union Facts. It’s the 2.1 million member SEIU—the nation’s fastest growing labor union. The union that put card-check recognition on the map.

Here are a few of SEIU’s claims of improper tactics by NUHW:

  • Workers were told that signing a card was the only way they could keep their union.
  • Workers were threatened that they could be deported if they did not sign.
  • NUHW representatives said they were from a government agency.
  • NUHW reps pressured family members and even home care consumers to sign the cards.
  • A worker was told to sign “a petition to protect our rights.” It was not until “a few months ago that I realized that, through their lies, they try to move me to a different union.”
  • One member “was overwhelmed when two workers from the hotel union knocked at her door pressuring her to sign a petition. They told her the petition was for their voting freedom and it would not affect her union. Then they refused to leave until she signed.”

Intimidating home visits. Misleading tactics. Widespread unfair labor practices. This kind of talk won’t woo any EFCA fence-sitters in Congress. In fact, these are the very complaints of card-signing coercion that EFCA opponents have lodged. Has the SEIU divulged the unsavory devices that union organizers employ in their efforts to secure workers’ signatures? Or is the SEIU overstating the misconduct of its rival to win its turf battle at all costs?

Again, far be it for me to say. But the SEIU increasingly has been going rogue of late. The union, with Andy Stern at the helm, stands accused of abetting the break-up of UNITE-HERE, of raiding unions, of cozying up to Wal-Mart—labor’s favorite adversary—on healthcare reform. Other union leaders and labor supporters have voiced their displeasure, as UNITE-HERE is all too happy to document: http://www.wrongwayseiu.org/.

The SEIU won’t likely win its friends back by making the case against card-check.