Oakland Union Boss: 150,000 California Health-Care Workers May Quit SEIU


The leader of an Oakland-based health-care affiliate of the Service Employees International Union said Monday that workers may quit the union en masse if SEIU president Andy Stern follows through on a threat to take over the affiliate.

"If the SEIU International forces us into trusteeship, we will consider all lawful options within and outside the SEIU to honor our members' wishes," said Sal Rosselli, leader of United Healthcare Workers-West, which represents 150,000 orderlies, nurses, and other California health-care employees. Rosselli added that workers may, on their own, consider "the right to decertify from the SEIU and form a new union, cancel voluntary political contributions, or even form a new democratic union."

Last Week, SEIU president Andy Stern sent a lieutenant to the Bay Area as part of preparations to oust Rosselli for allegedly committing "financial malpractice." Rosselli directed $3 million to fund a campaign against the national union, the allegations state. Stern also issued an ultimatum demanding that Rosselli be removed if he did not allow for the smooth transfer of 65,000 affiliate members working in nursing homes to a newly formed union controlled by Stern appointees. Rosselli today called the malpractice charges "bogus." He said the 65,000 members would leave his affiliate only if allowed to vote on the question, and that a Stern-led takeover might be met with spontaneous resistance from rank-and-file workers. 

An internal union dispute between Stern and Rosselli first became public in 2007 when SF Weekly described UHW-West complaints about a secret California deal between SEIU bosses and the owners of nursing home chains. Critics within the affiliate, along with patient advocacy groups, said the secret deal traded away the rights of elderly nursing home residents in exchange for permission to recruit union members in certain facilities.

Since that time, Stern has conducted official union disciplinary proceedings with an aim toward Rosselli's formal removal as UHW-West president.

Rosselli said during a conference call Monday that he and other affiliate leaders had agreed on a "compromise" reaction to Stern's ultimatum. It would include ceding the 65,000 members, but only if members were allowed to vote on the proposition. A Stern-arranged membership vote in December asked members to choose how -- but not whether --  the 65,000 members would be transfered to the new affiliate.

"To us it was like asking, 'Do you want to be shot in the left foot, or the right foot?'" Rosselli said Monday.

Rosselli said SEIU rules prohibit affiliate leaders from calling for workers to leave the larger union. Rather, Rosselli said, he has heard about calls from union members to independently rebel against the Stern takeover.

"We, as officers, cannot encourage such an activity," Rosselli said, adding that members on their own might take actions such as seeking to defect to a non-SEIU-affiliated union.

A press release from the UHW:

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