New York SEIU members angry at money spent to fight California healthcare workers

NewsSeptember 2, 2009

Above, members of Local 1199 protest during a 2007 contract dispute.By Meredith Kolodner, New York Daily News

New York’s lowest-paid unionized workers are up in arms over being asked to cough up cash to pay for a labor battle 3,000 miles away.

Members of the Local 1199 hospital workers union say their leadership has already spent too much on a controversial California clash that pits member against member and drains resources during fiscally tight times.

“There is significant sentiment within the union that is questioning the way the dues money is being spent,” said one 1199 leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “There are a lot of people who don’t want this war.”

Members of the 1199 Service Employees International Union, who also work as home health aides, have been hit hard by the recession, forgoing raises to save their pension fund.

The 300,000-member local sent more than $37 million in dues last year to SEIU, according to federal filing papers.

“It’s enough already,” said another 1199 officer.

SEIU President Andy Stern will meet with the union’s executive committee Sept. 8 to ask for more staff and money, according to sources.

Stern is trying to maintain representation rights over 150,000 West Coast health care workers, a battle that has already cost the union tens of millions of dollars.

An SEIU spokeswoman, Michelle Ringuette, said Stern’s visit is to discuss health care reform, not the California clash.

George Gresham, head of 1199 SEIU, said he invited Stern to address the controversy.

“In 1199, we are committed to building a national health care union,” Gresham said.

The 1199’s executive board voted several times to stay neutral in the conflict with the California local, United Healthcare Workers West.

Nonetheless, members say that they were solicited by organizing director Amy Gladstein to participate in phone banks and even travel to California on behalf of SEIU.

Several leading staffers spent months on the West Coast, documents show.

Since April, when the executive board officially gave the green light, dozens of 1199 members and staffers have spent months in California, paid for with 1199 funds.

“There has been no discussion at delegate assemblies about this issue. We haven’t voted on whether we agree on such a use of our money and staff,” said Jeff Vogel, a longtime union delegate.

“The money should be spent on critical issues facing our union – like health care reform.”

Source: New York Daily News