Open letter to Leon Chow from community leader Warren Mar

NewsSeptember 23, 2009

Warren Mar is a longtime labor and community leader in San Francisco and a board member of the Chinese Progressive Association. This is his open letter to SEIU-UHW Homecare Division Director Leon Chow.

September 4, 2009

Dear Brother Leon,

I am responding to your letter of August 14, 2009.  It has taken me this long to respond because I wanted to learn more about what has changed your view about breaking from your old colleagues in SEIU-Local 250 since the SEIU, International Union put them into trusteeship.  Also, my work load at CCSF was busy because we started our fall semester just when you sent out your letter of August, 14th.

I would like to start by saying that we have been allies for a long time, not only in the labor movement but also in the Chinese community were we both served on various non-profit boards including that of the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) which has a long history of supporting immigrant workers.  We have fought side by side on many issues and when you left HERE, Local 2 and wanted to return to work in labor you came to see me at the AFL-CIO, Organizing Institute.  I referred you to SEIU 250 because I knew they were looking for a Chinese speaking homecare organizer.  You have worked there many years and built a base among home care workers and other immigrant workers in Chinatown, through your work with CPA. 

However, you did not do this alone.  Your organizing of the homecare workers was premised on the fact that under Local 250 and later UHW, led by Sal Roselli, this local fought for one of the highest home care contracts in the state of California and perhaps the country.  This local also helped build many of the ties that united homecare and other medical workers with their patients, notably the elderly and disabled communities.  In local elections for the highest minimum wage in the state, sick days for all workers and for a progressive majority on our board of supervisors in San Francisco, it was often Local 250, later UHW and Local 2 of UNITE/HERE that often had the most volunteers in the streets to makes these local public policy measures for workers a reality.  Other locals often made customary donations and had paid staff working on election day, but only SEIU 250, later UHW and Local 2 had broad and deep membership mobilization.  This was a well known fact among local political circles.

I am pointing this out, because I think you need to remember where your base among Chinese workers came from.  Anything we were able to do in Chinatown was and is not due only to our own work, but because we did it with brothers and sisters in good organizations.  When Sal first starting disagreeing with the SEIU International Union about the consolidation of home-care workers into a state wide local, David Bacon and I interviewed him and other SEIU International leaders for a local radio program.  I interviewed you at the same time for a written article. 

At that time you said, ” Separating home-care workers from other health care workers is not in the interests of our patients, because it breaks the continuum of care which may start in the home, move on to a nursing home and end in a hospital”.

You supported Sal Roselli’s opposition to the International taking the homecare workers out of the bargaining unit at that time.  True, trusteeship was not yet a known fact but it was clearly threatened from the International as was disaffiliation by UHW members who supported Roselli and others who wanted to maintain strong local control.  So one question I still have is why did you switch from supporting the Local to now defending the International Unions attack on two of San Francisco’s most progressive locals. 

You mentioned solidarity in your letter, but is that enough?  What union and working class values are you in solidarity with?  SEIU International has been consolidating their locals into mega organizations across California and across the country.  Especially in California this has drawn a lot of opposition from local leaders and rank and file members who feel they are losing organizing and bargaining rights in these mergers.  Many staffers who had no vote on these issues voted by quitting SEIU.  As I mentioned earlier I was a recruiter and trainer with the OI/AFL-CIO for new organizers.  Many of the people that have worked for SEIU have left, often with a bad taste in their mouth.  What Andy Stern has created is not the new labor movement we wanted to build.  Here is what the SEIU International has created in the solidarity you mentioned.

  • SEIU International has created a temporary agency of organizers that they can now work at will and move around the country.  Many of these organizers have complained locally of working 16 hour days when their contracts call for only 10.
  • The need for these temporary organizers came from multiple facts; including the 100% turn-over in some locals after the mergers mentioned previously and the refusal of some locally hired staff to help on the UNITE/HERE raids
  • There have been mini-rebellions against the raids of UNITE/HERE within their own locals and against the mergers from SEIU 1021 (North Bay), SEIU 521 (South Bay) etc.
  • Before UHW, Local 87 in San Francisco was also trusteed.  The members voted to decertify the International and now have been “allowed” to come back into the SEIU fold.  Some of the similarities they shared with UHW was their higher contract standards than those set by the statewide SEIU 1877 and their refusal to trade these local contractual bargaining rights for top down organizing rights in other locations.
  • The implosion of statewide homecare leaders in Los Angeles who have been fired and charged with criminal financial misconduct.
  • The Change to Win confederation has fallen apart due mainly to SEIU’s raids on other unions notably UNITE/HERE and most members of that confederation have made it known that they plan to rejoin the AFL-CIO, with little to show for the 4 years of withdrawal from the AFL-CIO.  The CTW has also caused our movement to have a totally disorganized policy agenda with no real work being done for labor law or health care reform, while valuable resources are being expended on raids of other unions.

Finally, I was at the SF Labor Council meeting two weeks ago when the so called UHW workers marched in to attack Mike Casey and threaten their withdrawal from the CLC.  A threat the local trustee has made in other surrounding CLC’s including San Jose, San Mateo and Alameda County.  Since then they have withdrawn from the SFCLC because the executive board unanimously supported UNITE/HERE and refused to have Mike Casey step down.  Many locals have in fact increased their per capita payments to make up for the SEIU short fall.  Other surrounding labor councils are waiting for SEIU to withdraw, even when this will hurt every single one of the local CLC’s and they have in fact tried to remain as neutral as possible but in many cases they have seen SEIU raids on UNITE/HERE and not the other way around as you mentioned.  The actions I have seen at the Labor Council and some of the flyers and brochures I have seen sent to UNITE/HERE members homes show me who the aggressor in this fight really is. 

I don’t want to see what Local 2, CPA and Local 250/UHW/NUHW has built over the years be torn down locally.  If you want to be neutral you should do what many regional organizers such as Fred Ross Jr. has done and that is to leave SEIU and continue to work with the majority of the labor movement that has now turned against what Andy Stern is trying to do by seeking hegemony over all the unions in this country with no regard to rank and file participation or local control.

In solidarity, Warren