Web Letters | The Nation

Is an injury to one still an injury to all?

It goes without saying that SEIU has helped improve the lives of many workers, and despite the IU's talking points reflected in these letters, Max Fraser’s article did not dispute this in the slightest. Having spent nearly a quarter-century working in SEIU from Colorado to California, I am personally familiar with several of these members’ stories: helping to lead Justice for Janitors from its very first campaign; organizing and representing mental health staff at MHCD; and staffing Local 2028 before it morphed into 221. But the obvious fact that SEIU and other unions have played a major role in workplace and even global justice does not excuse the grotesque abuses of power by Stern, Henry, Hudson and the rest of the SEIU’s leadership, or the painful damage done to hundreds of thousands of other members, the union overall and the progressive movement as a whole.

Not a word of Fraser’s specific critique of the state of the once much stronger and more honorable SEIU was challenged in any of these letters. Isn’t your loyalty best placed with the concerns of all members—and even the broader movement we are a part of—instead of limiting it to International leaders and their decisions regardless of the harm they have done to others because you have not personally been injured? Even with any notion of solidarity aside, you might consider that spending almost $100 million of your dues to raid other unions, silence legitimate dissent and declare war on many of your fellow members does actually weaken the union and harm you. Does the sister from Local 221 think that there is no legitimate debate to be had over creating mega-locals with minimal input from members and then have the IU appoint "leaders” like your last two? You must be aware that new elections have just been won after a long fight from fellow rank-and-filers to prevent your last president—a corporate lawyer with zero labor experience whom Stern appointed after meeting her at a party—from stealing her first actual election and then running off once the jig was up with the kind of $100K golden parachute corporate types think they are entitled to even when they screw up. While it is gratifying to read that SEIU cheeses spent three days coming up with another plan, I would suggest to EVP Hudson that it might actually be easier to work with other unions if you’re not raiding their members, robbing their treasuries and sowing division and disruption amidst the whole movement. Campaigns for accountability and justice from the corporate elite might just be enhanced by eliminating that nasty culture of cutting deals behind workers’ backs with some of these very same characters. These and other indefensible actions have reduced SEIU from a leader to an outcast in the house of labor, and among many progressives who lament the opportunities our movement lost while dealing with the wreckage caused by our biggest union “going rogue” and betraying the most basic ethical standards the best of our movement died for.

I am proud of the work done for nearly four decades with remarkable rank-and-file members, dedicated staffers, and community allies in many campaigns which changed the lives of people who work for a living, their families and the global community. But I ask these members: Does any improvement in your life make it acceptable to rig elections, silence dissent or collaborate with bosses without workers’ consent or even knowledge? Is it OK with you to call the boss and even the cops on fellow workers who have put it on the line for years to build SEIU, but do not agree with some of the dictates of the International? Do workers in other unions have the right to face that uphill climb with their employers to build power to organize and negotiate, without having the country’s biggest union hanging on their backs to sabotage their rights and sacrifices?

It is my hope that you recognize these as rhetorical questions, do a little research and respectfully reconsider your position.

Mike Wilzoch

Aurora, CO

Jun 19 2010 - 8:26pm

Thanks to SEIU, I have better working conditions.

As a janitor member of SEIU Local 32BJ, I truly understand why being a part of this union is important. It’s not just about having more members, more strength and good contracts, benefits, salaries and respect. It’s about standing together across the United States.

Thanks to SEIU, I have better conditions in my life, as do other members, while nonunion workers in this country are often treated like slaves with discrimination and abuse.

I'm very proud to be an SEIU member because I witness the constant fight for justice for workers and their families. We are not alone in our struggles and Max Fraser’s piece doesn’t get that.

Gabriel Acosta

Hartford, CT

Jun 18 2010 - 12:56pm

The struggle of unions is the struggle of workers

Together with SEIU, workers like me have a voice on the job so we can better do the jobs we love and keep the American Dream alive for our families. That’s the SEIU that Andy Stern is leaving behind. Unfortunately, your article doesn’t talk about that, and you clearly miss the point about unions.

My story is the story of millions of workers. I came to this country from Peru in 1993, and have always worked hard to take care of my family and raise my children to be good citizens of this great nation. When I first arrived here, my hard work was rewarded with humiliation, low wages, no benefits and workplace abuses because I claimed my rights as an honest worker.

But in 2005, SEIU helped me change my life. I am now a proud member of Local 32BJ in Hartford, Connecticut. I make a decent wage, have health insurance and get benefits like vacation time. Even more important, I regained the dignity and respect that every worker deserves.

SEIU members understand that the struggle of unions is the struggle of workers to have a decent life in a decent society with social justice, respect and freedom. I hope that in the future your articles are more balanced and include the stories of the millions of workers like me who are stronger together in SEIU, and that you will describe the role unions play in restoring justice for all workers.

Ciro Gutierrez

Hartford, Connecticut

Jun 18 2010 - 12:53pm

Missing the point: unions improve the lives of workers

This article misses the point that my union is about improving the lives of workers and the services we provide. With SEIU, members like me have the opportunity to speak out in one voice against unfair and unsafe labor practices, low wages, and access to affordable healthcare, and can even influence political issues that affect the quality our lives and the our communities.

As a mental healthcare provider for ten years and an SEIU member for the last six years, I have seen firsthand the positive changes that can happen when workers and employers can agree on ways to improve critical services for communities and working conditions for the staff providing the services. With SEIU, my colleagues and I have been able to work with employers to create sensible shift schedules, improve communications during shift reporting and increased trainings to help stabilize the workforce

SEIU’s support and resources help level the playing field for consumers and workers and helps provide a path toward the American Dream.


Mary Ann Pryor

Denver, Colorado

Jun 18 2010 - 12:50pm

SEIU's bottom-up organizing is enormously successful

I don’t know where Max Fraser’s sources got the information that SEIU has started to back off from the bottom-up approach," but it’s wrong. In recent years, SEIU’s expanding from the bottom-up has been enormously successful and has had a profound impact on my life, the lives of my fellow homecare workers and the clients we serve.

I am a homecare worker and member lobbyist from SEIU Local 503 in Oregon and have personally been involved in several grassroots organizing campaigns in the southern part of the state. In fact, there are campaigns underway to organize homecare workers at this very moment.

Before organizing and joining SEIU, Oregon homecare workers were tremendously undervalued. We were poorly paid independent contractors caring for the most vulnerable in our communities who couldn’t afford care outside of their homes. We were doing the jobs we loved, but without affordable healthcare or medical expenses in case we got hurt on the job. Now we receive a good living wage with health insurance and workman’s compensation benefits. And the state offers excellent training classes so we can offer the best care to people who need it the most.

SEIU’s organizing in Oregon has had a profound impact on my life, the lives of my fellow home care workers and the clients we serve.

Rebecca Sandoval

Medford, OR

Jun 18 2010 - 12:45pm

The SEIU changed my life

It is clear that Mr. Fraser hasn't walked in the shoes of millions of members of SEIU workers who faithfully serve people in communities across America and other parts of the world. I am one of these members—and am proud of it.

In the late '70s I was a stay-at-home mom, and after a divorce I was struggling to raise my children without child support or a job. I found myself in the job market rife with age discrimination, no respect for workers’ rights, low wages, long work hours without overtime pay and no access to health insurance. But I needed to support my two sons, so I had no other choice.

Thankfully, I had the opportunity to get a job—a union job—with members represented by the Service Employees International Union.

From day one, my life was changed. I earned a livable wage and was able to get family health insurance. I was also able to set a schedule so I could be home to help my kids with homework, have dinner together, take them to sports practice. I could afford to buy them new clothes when they returned to school in the fall. And I was respected and valued as a human being.

I learned the meaning of the word “union” with SEIU in my seventeen years of as a member and a public service worker in San Diego County, California. We are a global family. Union presidents come and go, but the members stay strong. I hope that in the future your articles are more balanced and include the stories of the millions of workers like me in SEIU as well as the role unions play in changing workers’ lives and communities.

A retired SEIU member, Local 221 Retired Medi-Cal Eligibility Officer,

Luz Villafana

Escondido, CA

Jun 17 2010 - 3:30pm

SEIU will continue to fight

Three years ago, very few people anticipated the complete and worldwide collapse of the economy. Our nation lost $17 trillion dollars, a quarter of its wealth, virtually overnight. Every industrialized nation is now faced with impossible choices and deep cuts that slice right to the heart of the hard-won gains, both tangible and social, that progressives and trade unionists have fought for.

In this provocative piece, Max Fraser asks many of the right questions but ultimately misses a key point: over the past fifteen years, SEIU accomplished something extraordinary. At a time when the American labor movement was shrinking, SEIU united more than 1.2 million workers in the union, doubling its size and the ability of those workers to make real and hopefully lasting gains on the job.

Fraser's critique really speaks to the heart of what all working people face as a threat: the collapse of the social welfare system and the failure of capitalism to protect the fundamental security of those who work for a living. And that's why SEIU's executive board spent three days last week addressing the crisis that workers face right now and planning forward.

We know that we cannot go it alone, because for all our union's progress in organizing and in politics, today we see the economic crisis destroying not only our jobs and our communities but also the standards we have worked so hard to achieve. Our decisions:

§ SEIU will continue working with partners in the labor, progressive and religious communities to march with workers through the streets to the doorsteps of very big banks who have been bad actors and who have brought about this economic collapse.

§ SEIU will challenge the CEOs, politicians and even Democratic lobbyists who are helping those deemed "too big to fail" to continue to fail us.

§ SEIU will keep standing, marching and getting arrested with our coalition partners seeking justice for immigrants at the same time we end the shadow economy that allows unscrupulous business owners to profit at the expense of all workers.

§ SEIU will participate in the global efforts to hold multinational corporations like Sodexo accountable for how they treat the women and men who work for them.

§ And SEIU will continue to fight day and night to see that workers—both in unions and not—are not forced to bear the burden of recovery alone.

There is no question that working people would be in much better shape if more workers were in unions, and we will continue our efforts to make sure that all workers who want a voice on the job are able to unite.

The easy part is recognizing the obvious: none of us has solved the problem that working people face each and every day. The challenge for us all is to not just imagine but also to realize a future that restores our economy and rewards work.

Gerry Hudson

Executive Vice President, Service Employees International Union

Jun 17 2010 - 12:58pm