Immigrant and disability advocates protest SEIU voter intimidation

NewsNovember 24, 2009

Workers say SEIU is retaliating against whistle-blowers after illegal tactics exposed by Wall Street Journal

Fresno, Calif.—Immigrant and disability advocates spoke out at a protest today outside the Fresno office of the labor union SEIU. SEIU came under fire last week for allegedly tampering with ballots and making illegal threats against its own members—including threats that immigrant workers could be deported—in this summer’s controversial union election for 10,000 Fresno homecare providers.

“No union has the right to threaten to deport workers,” said Leonel Flores, an organizer with the Fresno-based Union de Exbraceros y de Inmigrantes. “Many workers have no way to legalize their status. But all workers have rights. SEIU must stop the threats and start treating workers with respect.”

A former SEIU staffer turned whistle-blower, who worked on the election campaign this summer, recently told the Wall Street Journal and the Fresno Bee that he tampered with ballots and threatened workers at the direction of his superiors, who he later witnessed destroying evidence of election violations. He joined another SEIU staff member and six voters in providing sworn testimony in a legal challenge to overturn the election. These whistle-blowers said they began receiving threatening and harassing phone calls soon after their testimony became public.

Fresno disability advocate John Wilkins joined the protest to support the workers, who care for frail seniors and people with disabilities so they can live at home.

“The new evidence confirms everything I heard from homecare providers and consumers during the election,” said John Wilkins, a disability advocate in Fresno. “These tactics don’t just hurt homecare providers, they hurt people like myself who rely on them. As a consumer, there is nothing I dislike more than bullying and intimidation. There is simply no place for it in any healthcare setting.”

Dozens of homecare providers joined the protest, calling for a full investigation by the state labor board and a new election that would allow them to choose freely which union they want to represent them.

“This all started because SEIU was making bad deals with politicians and healthcare companies that hurt workers and the people we care for,” said Phally Pov, a homecare provider in Fresno. “Thousands of us asked for that election because we wanted a better union where we’d have a real voice. But SEIU didn’t want us to have a choice.”

A video released last week shows an SEIU official encouraging hundreds of staff to “deliver an old-school ass-whipping” to the union’s critics in the June election, and includes eyewitness accounts from voters who saw SEIU threaten them and take ballots from their mailboxes.

# # #

The National Union of Healthcare Workers is an independent, member-led union, dedicated to improving the lives of healthcare workers and the people they care for. More than 100,000 workers in hospitals, Kaiser Permanente facilities, homecare, and nursing homes have petitioned to join NUHW since January 2009. |