San Francisco Bay Guardian: SEIU vs. UHW, a ringside seat

NUHW In the NewsFebruary 3, 2009

Guardian intern Joe Sciarrillo was at Friday’s takeover of the UHW by SEIU and has these words and images:

Friday afternoon at the United Healthcare Workers headquarters, eight Oakland Police officers mediated a dispute between UHW members resisting the takeover by Service Employees International Union and SEIU representatives who showed up to take custody of the building. Both sides sought to convince the police to let their respective groups stay in the building.

Lover Joyce, a former UHW Executive Board member and medical assistant at Kaiser Walnut Creek, explained to reporters what the SEIU representatives had done around 11am. “They broke into the building, pushed our members” after using bolt-cutters to open the doors. Joyce and several other members had been sleeping at the office for a little over a week, so when SEIU leaders arrived, they called the Oakland Police Department. “We have the deed to the property!” he continued to assure the police and reporters. “It belongs to the Unity Healthcare Workers Corporation, not UHW or SEIU.”

Tara Gorewitz, a contract specialist for UHW at Walnut Creek Kaiser, later explained the history of why the building was legally given to the Unity Healthcare Workers Corporation and not to UHW or SEIU. She noted that Shirley Ware, the late Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU UHW- West Local 250, set up the deed in this manner so that the members, rather than the union, could retain rights to use the building in the case of a split.

Joyce maintained, “We’ve been sleeping in the building ‘cuz we knew some intruders were gonna come in.” An SEIU rep in a designer pantsuit pleaded with officers to remove the members, telling the officers “They’re squatters!”

But SEIU trustee David Regan told the Guardian that the law was on their side and that SEIU was entitled to take control of the building that houses what is essentially a subsidiary of SEIU. “I expect we’ll be in there in the next 20 minutes,” he said by phone in the early afternoon.

For the next two hours, Joyce would continue to utter in disbelief that the police would not recognize the deed in his hands. He maintained that his group could consider leaving the premises if SEIU had a court order. After hours of disputing, the police had ushered out almost all former UHW members but allowed SEIU reps to remain. Joyce declared, “I’m the only one who has the deed with claim to the building, but I’m asked to leave!” Joyce observed with disgrace, “The police are allowing them to change the locks, but they have no court order…a lot of us are minorities, but we’re not stupid!”

Tara Gorewitz observed, “If they (SEIU) slay this dragon, the rest of the locals will fall in line…How can they (SEIU) push the Employee Free Choice Act if we don’t even have a free choice in our union?”

Across the street from the building, Officer Osanna assured the group that the police were there just to “preserve the peace, to standby, and to make sure there’s no violence.” He emphasized that they were not taking sides. The Oakland Police Department’s Public Affairs Division did not return calls to the Guardian and did not say why they permitted SEIU to kick out the former group.

Sonia, an optician at Kaiser in Martinez, and former UHW member commented to an SEIU rep outside, warning that “the power of the people” would prevail. The rep calmly responded, “We are all trying to do the same thing but we have two different opinions on how to get there.”

At this point most people presumed that all former UHW members were removed out onto the sidewalk and several SEIU reps stood inside, guarding the doors with police. Sonia confided to the Guardian reporter that her group thought one of its members was hiding in a room inside.

Minutes later, SEIU reps opened the doors to alert other reps and police that they had just found the member, Jaime Carrillo, locked in a room. A police officer then began to yell at Sonia for having hid her knowledge of this. He called the group untrustworthy as he closed the door to join the SEIU reps in conversation.

The scene came to a conclusion around 2:30pm, as Carrillo walked out, dazed, with two medics who had been called to respond to reports that he had fainted inside. He sat down with the group, explaining that had decided to hide from SEIU reps and police, and that he had indeed fainted. He recalled how the reps treated him when they found him hiding, “They were searching me like I was a felon” and rummaging through his pockets.

The police then left the scene. When asked what the group’s next moves would be, Joyce responded pensively, “I don’t know.”

Source: San Francisco Bay Guardian