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From the March-April 2005 issue of Union Democracy Review #155

If you can't woo 'em, sue 'em!
An ingenious twist in punishing dissent in the SEIU

The Service Employees International Union, via the trustee it has imposed on its Local 134, has come up with an ingenious device to discourage disenchanted members from seeking a more congenial affiliation. The solution is not by convincing them to stay but by taking retaliatory action in federal court against their leaders. This is one of those suits which, win or lose, achieves its objective by the very act of filing.

Based upon an examination of legal papers submitted by both sides, it seems that in mid-2003, the SEIU, presumably in line with its merger obsession, decided to transfer a big part of the 750 membership of Local 134 in Rhode Island to the bigger Local 615 in Boston. But in a wave of resentment against the move, 500 Local 134 members voted to quit the SEIU and form their own independent union, the United Service and Allied Workers of Rhode Island. Nothing unusual here; disaffiliation happens from time to time.

Two paid Local 134 staff representatives --- Karen Mac Aninch, business agent; and Charles F. Wood, secretary-treasurer--- supported the disaffiliation move after they say, the overwhelming majority of local members rejected the effort to merge them into the Boston local. On September 28, 2004, having lost out to the United Service and Allied Workers in NLRB elections, the SEIU made its move by filing suit in federal court against the two errant former staffers: Aninch and Wood. The suit aims to make them pay for their apostasy.

In its complaint, the SEIU charges that the two caused Local 134 a severe drop in income from the loss of membership while collecting a salary from the local; it accuses them of "misappropriating Local 134 trade secrets involving the location and composition of its membership." The suit seeks a judgment against the two, reimbursement for all the losses, and a return of the salary payments. Since the claimed total dues income was $240,000 and the salaries, $81,496 before the losses, the potential demand upon the two defendants could be quite a bundle. Won or lost, the suit stands as a warning to others.

More resources on Change to Win and SEIU:
See Benson's Union Democracy Blog for several articles
Stern Employees International Union
Reflections on the SEIU Convention in Puerto Rico
Andy Stern is slipping off the pedestal
SEIU needs a public review board
On the eve of the SEIU Convention
Opposition wins most delegates from big SEIU local
Fight in Ohio between SEIU and California Nurses revives old issue: When employers welcome unions at the NLRB
On "democratic" centralism: Stern's illusion and democracy's nightmare
Healthcare leader raps Stern; quits SEIU board
SEIU rearranges 600,000 into mega locals
Debate on Union Democracy and Change to Win
If you can't woo 'em, sue 'em! An ingenious twist in punishing dissent in the SEIU
SEIU's Unite to Win blog reviewed.
Local 509 asks questions about democracy in the SEIU
New Unity Partnership:Sweeney Critics would bureaucratize to organize.
Service Employees: Mass. merger in Local 888.
Benson's Union Democracy blog.
Student Labor Activists support union democracy.
Articles on the Labor Notes site on NUP from various sources.
See UDR articles on the Carpenters (UBCJA) for case studies in merger and bureaucratization.
Several articles on the New Unity Partnership are available on the BC Carpenters website.
Find articles on the consolidation of power in the Carpenters union on the main UDR page.
An exchange on union democracy between Herman Benson and Steve Fraser, on the website (click on Fraser's name for a link to his article)
Links to rank-and-file websites in the NUP unions: Carpenters, Hotel and Restaurant Employees, Laborers, Needle Trades (UNITE), Service Employees (building services, public employees).


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