The SEIU: A Case Study in Corruption
By Isaac MacMillen
The Services Employees International Union (SEIU) has been in the headlines in recent days for its collusion with the Obama Administration to strip the state of California of its rightful share of stimulus funds. It's a pay-to-play union ploy, one that California Representative Brian Bilbray (R), in an exclusive Washington News Observer interview, has termed “absurd.”
Said Mr. Bilbray, “The entire concept of the president holding the taxpayers and the budget process in California hostage to be able to pay back to a union that gave  million dollars to his campaign, is just the kind of cynical politics that people are fed up with. We were promised change, and this is not change. This is really Chicago politics at its best—or its worst. I think that, the fact is, the local legislators, the governor have worked out a crisis policy here, and to have the president now use taxpayers money to extort policies out of the state of California is absurd.
“Remember, this is not President Obama's money, this is California's taxpayer's money, that rightfully should be returned back to them, and without the strings. We're not talking about the stimulus package now being something that helps; this is not an issue of aid, this is an issue of control, and control from Washington.”
Still, even with all of that, much of the activity coming out of California may be no more dirty business as usual for the notoriously heavy-handed SEIU hierarchy. It is not the first time the SEIU has exploited those beneath it in a bare-knuckled power play. In fact, this labor organization has a shady history of disenfranchisement enforced by heavy-handed authoritarianism.
For even as the Obama-SEIU controversy unfolds, the formation of a rival union is pitting the SEIU in a life-and-death struggle for the 150,000 members currently on the line—many of whom support the rival union out of anger for the way the SEIU has treated them.
The SEIU needs a big “victory” to retain its power—and the tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars in dues it stands to lose if it is booted out by the union voters it has disenfranchised.
The big split within the SEIU began when central leadership wanted to split off the healthcare workers from the other hospital workers in their local unions, making them instead members of larger, more geographically-broad healthcare worker-only units. And they wanted to do this without consulting the healthcare workers themselves, many of whom had grown used to the large amount of independence allowed within the local SEIU chapter.
To solve the problem, the national SEIU boss Andy Stern ruthlessly removed the local leadership, staging what has been described as a “hostile takeover.” New light has been shed on the takeover with the release of a lawsuit against SEIU by the security contractor hired to aid in the heavy-handed takeover.
The contractor, the OSO Group, claims it never received nearly half of its approximately $2 million bill. Furthermore, they exposed in the lawsuit document many of the tactics it was ordered to employ on behalf of the SEIU—which amount to nothing less than raw intimidation.
OSO Group explains that they were called in to provide “surveillance and security” to SEIU-UHW buildings and to the hotels where senior SEIU officials would reside and meet to discuss their plan to break the local union. The armed OSO security contractors appeared in force at various local SEIU buildings, and a 24/7 command post was set up to coordinate the operation. During this time, there was haggling over SEIU's late payments to the OSO Group, ultimately resulting in the filing of the lawsuit by the contractor.
In a press release, the newly formed rival union points to the lawsuit and reiterates that the armed contractors used visual and video surveillance to intimidate the local workers who had rejected the national union's takeover. Clearly, the national SEIU did not demonstrate a great amount of trust in its members.
This sticky situation is just the tip of the iceberg, however, when it comes to the union's open hostility to its own members.
In another part of California, former local SEIU boss Tyrone Freeman has come under federal investigation for misuse of funds procured from his 160,000 union members, many of them not earning much more than the state's $8/hour minimum wage.
But, in blatant disregard for his members and their finances, Mr. Freemen, a personal appointee of SEIU President Stern, channeled over $400,000 in union dues and charitable contributions to family-run businesses, $300,000 to personal luxury expenses—such as a golf tournament, cigar club, and Hollywood talent shop—and an additional $300,000 toward ethically-questionable entities, as reported by the LA Times.
Mr. Freeman's internal union workings have also come under fire, as federal Labor Department officials investigate whether the local union's elections were weighted towards incumbents.
Additionally, some within the SEIU have questioned why it spent, in the words of Andy Stern, “$60.7 million to be exact,” all on behalf of Barack Obama during the 2008 election—and then turned around and laid off a third of its DC staff. All this while pushing for Congress to pass the pro-union “Card Check” legislation. Said the lead DC union official, Malcolm Harris:
"It's completely hypocritical. This is the union that's been at the forefront of progressive issues, around ensuring that working people and working families are taken care of, but when it comes to the people that work for SEIU, they haven't set the same standards."
Apparently the controversy surrounding SEIU has reached such proportions that even ACORN is removing its SEIU links from its website. Whether that was because the SEIU didn't want to be associated with the voter registration group now under criminal investigations in Nevada and Pennsylvania, or that ACORN wants to avoid the publicity of being associated with the SEIU, this clearly bodes ill for both groups.
Whatever the case, the SEIU is treading on dangerous ground, as it attempts to give the people of California the same contemptible treatment it has dished out to its own members—and in the same authoritarian manner.
When asked by the Washington News Observer about the intrusion of the SEIU into California politics, Congressman Bilbray added the following, “I think it's inappropriate for anybody--I don't care if its big business or big labor—to have the ability to basically modify—if not dictate-- policy, especially in the delicate balance between the authorities and the responsibilities of the federal government and the authorities and responsibilities of the state and local governments. And to allow anyone, be it business or labor, to interject their agenda into that is really scary.”
And for an organization with a reputation as authoritarian and self-serving as that of the SEIU, that is a very scary thought indeed.
Isaac MacMillen is a Contributing Editor to ALG News Bureau.