A Beleaguered SEIU Chief Steward Challenges Andy Stern to "Walk a Day in My Shoes"
| February 29, 2008 Any Town, USA---A dedicated SEIU rank and file leader invites Andy Stern to "Walk a day in my shoes" as a chief steward in a merged, embattled, SEIU local.
"I think Andy should enjoy some of the benefits which he has brought to our legacy locals since the mergers," the labor chief said, "but it will take some planning to set up his day so he gets the full benefit of the experience."
"Of course, there will rarely be rank and file leaders at the union halls to meet Andy during his 'Walk a day in my shoes' experience, since our legacy Executive Boards and Trustees have all been dissolved and, well, there's just Andy and an appointed president, plus some Stern-appointed folks acting as Executive Board members to rubber stamp Stern's agenda and rampant spending who are running the whole deal for us here at this local."
"But heck," the chief sighed, "the local can save on all of those pots of coffee, cold pizzas, and mystery meat dinners at meetings. Andy and I can just drive through Starbucks on the way in and not worry about buying donuts for anyone else at the local, since most of the organizers have been fired or quit, and the rank and file members just don't show up much anymore, especially since they can't vote on anything and aren't invited to attend meetings, observe the Executive Board in action, or receive any meeting schedules, minutes, or budgets." The chief steward mused.
"The local is just not a neighborly place anymore. Hell, we aren't even notified when the lunch truck arrives, we just wait to hear the horn like everyone else."
"So, I guess Andy and l will have the whole union hall to ourselves, along with the receptionist that is, so we can talk about union stuff, you know, like 'template agreements,' working behind the scenes to undermine pro-democratic reform rank and file leaders, and how to get past tough corporate secretaries to make appointments with health care industry CEO's and governors--you know, everyday stuff like that."
"Maybe Andy can help us rewrite our bylaws so we can have elections?" The chief steward considered. "Damn, I forgot. Our Stern-appointed president has already appointed loyalist folks to write the bylaws for us, secretly inserting language about removing dissenting rank and file leaders and forcing steward elections, so rank and file leaders who don't agree with Stern's agenda can be thrown out of leadership positions before the convention." The chief said, flicking a "Change to Win" button off a chair so he could take a seat.
"Poor Andy will have nothing to do all day, especially since the merged local lost open grievances from the legacy locals when SEIU and our appointed president ousted union staff and organizers then forced those remaining to travel several hours to the new merged regions. The organizers and staff stayed in union-rented apartments, where male and female organizers camped together, or were fired if they refused."
"But hey," the chief steward mused, "that's okay. Workers don't need representation anymore, especially if SEIU is just going to become a political lobbying organization. Andy will be pleased to see the large, nearly-empty union halls where you can use a bathroom almost any time, use two or three phones at once, play World of Warcraft and Second Life on two or more abandoned staff computers, and have whole floors in some merged union buildings to yourself."
"We use our union meeting hall for skateboarding now," the chief confided, "Since there are no longer general membership meetings. It's kind of cool, although I've had to invest in lots of Ben Gay to keep up with the 'Roads' and 'Parks and Rec' chiefs." He said. "I wonder if Andy would like to see some Tony Hawk DVD's? I think there's a TV here someplace."
The chief gestured towards the large empty union meeting hall with a new poster of Barak Obama on display between torn posters of Cesar Chavez, Che Guevara, and other favorite labor movement images, all scotch-taped on the walls by long-gone, pre-merger, labor organizers.
The chief kicked at a container of French Vanilla Coffee-Mate which had toppled off a folding table in a corner of the large empty room strewn with a few old bags of red licorice, a box of Frito Lay snack packs, some Snickers Bars, and lots of leftover fruity soft drinks left behind by staff and stewards during angry post-merger chapter council meetings.
"Maybe Andy can get me in to meet Arnold and I can get an autograph for my Terminator 3 DVD!" the chief exclaimed. "I heard they are friends now and Arnold let Andy drive the Hummer and everything while they talked about the Public Employment Relations Board appointees. Rank and file guys like me don't get to do this kind of stuff very often. It could be my 15 minutes of fame!" He brightened.
"I do plan to take Andy out for a nice Cantonese lunch on the way to Sacramento. You know, to celebrate how he wants to organize workers in China and all." The chief steward continued.
"Imagine, going to China! I wonder who paid for that trip? Some of the SEIU members I represent are single moms who are struggling to get by, or are gals who are the sole support of their families since their husbands were let go during the high tech down turn. Their husbands can't get jobs, you know." The chief continued. "It would be a shame if they knew that Andy used our dues money like that."
"I know some SEIU managers here had a three-day catered retreat at a Mansion nearby. Maybe some union manager got married during the meeting or something? Or it was the appointed president's birthday and union friends threw a party? When our rank and file leaders have meetings we hold them in the union hall with sandwiches and soda, or pizza, because we know we are using our member's union dues to pay for whatever we purchase. I wonder what they had catered in for three solid days at the mansion?" He pondered.
"In any case, a good host never talks about money or personal problems with his guests and I won't do that either. My mother taught me right, so I'm going to treat Andy just as well as he and our Stern-appointed president has treated me and some of the other members, at my local." The chief continued.
"If he doesn't like what I have organized for his Cantonese lunch, I will make him sign an agreement that he won't complain about me or his food publicly, or the 'Walk a day in my shoes' privileges will have to end and he won't be allowed to come back and visit us again."
"If Andy disagrees with my choice of restaurant and wants the right to choose his own lunch, I will lock him out of the union hall until he agrees to have dim sum like everyone else!" The weary chief said with a frown, remembering the loud Woody Guthrie singalongs at the union hall after chapter meetings, his face aglow with a purple reflection from his worn SEIU legacy local T-shirt.
"If Andy still kicks up a fuss and goes public about not being able to go to MacDonald's for a Happy Meal, I will shun him by blocking his email accounts, turning his appointees and stewards against him, and working to discredit him behind his back with his union buddies. I'll tell him I'll call Anna Berger. I'll bet she's a real pistol when she's on a tear." The chief grinned.
"I may even ask Anna to cut off his allowance for good, or at least transfer it into SEIU International's 'not-quite-really-a-strike-fund-but-make-something-else-up-so-we-can-use-all-of-this-money-and-not-have-to-justify-it fund,' you know, like the money that came out of our strike funds from around the country so the International could implement centralized Member Service Centers to capture SEIU members' personal information on regional Web-accessible databases for lobbying use and other stuff, like getting rid of more organizers and sending us focused political messages during elections." The chief steward explained. "We can only afford one-day strikes now, but, hey, it's a small price to pay for losing your privacy!
"That's it!" The chief exclaimed, "I will ask our appointed president to help Andy Stern enter all of his personal information into our SEIU International Member Service Center database! That's how we'll spend our 'Walk a day in my shoes' quality time!"
"It should take the two of them quite a while to enter Andy's social security number, home address, work addresses, phone numbers, cell phone numbers, his photo, recordings of his phone conversations, copies of his personnel action files, videos taken of him, lists of his friends in the union, his political party contacts, people he wants to put in trusteeship, people he wants to appoint next time, people he wants to fire this time, people he is not allowing to attend the convention, retirees he doesn't like, staffers who are scripting the convention for his platform, staff members who are showing up to fill the attendance quota for pre-convention conferences (in place of rank and file members), his collection of resignation letters from UHW leaders, his resignation letters from burned-out and misused organizers and managers, his contact numbers for elected politicians taking SEIU political campaign money, health care business owners he has special ties with, Washington D.C. lobbyists' home numbers, and messages from his boss (you know, electronic 'Post-it' notes to himself). And I'm going to make Andy pay for all of this, whether he likes it or not." The chief continued, pounding his fist on the table.
"He should be okay with me seeing all of his personal data and taking his money, since, after all, I am a social worker in this county and all. We're practically like therapists, you know. People trust us."
"I think this just might work. Old Andy's going to have a great time. He may just want to come back for more. After all, he still has to apply to be nominated as a delegate to the SEIU International Convention in Puerto Rico happening in May 2008, that is, if he is walking a day in my Tony Lamas."
"He may have some real trouble being nominated at my SEIU local" the chief continued as he shook his head. "Our delegate nomination and application form will only accept 20 'valid' signatures by SEIU members to support his nomination, but there is no definition of what 'valid' means to SEIU on the form."
"Also, when Andy submits his photo and a brief delegate statement to be placed on the local's convention ballots, as the application form requests, he may have some problems with the email address listed to submit this information."
"The email address, which is specified as the only way to submit the photo and statement, was still not working 10 days after my SEIU members received the election call and delegate nomination forms in the mail on February 12th. By February 20th email was still bouncing back from the email address given by my local, and rank and file delegate hopefuls were told by the local's mail server that the email account for submissions was a non-existent email address at the local."
"Along with all of this, anyone who wants to vote for Andy will only have two hours on a Saturday morning to drive downtown to the union hall to cast their ballots in person." he continued.
"Poor Andy," the chief sighed. "He may not get any votes at all this time since county library and hospital folks, and even some social services and home care folks, all work on Saturdays. We will not be able to make it to the convention delegate elections polling place at our union hall, which in most cases is 30-40 minutes away from our jobs. The voting time does not fall during our lunch hours either. I hope Andy is not too disappointed when no one is able to vote for him because the management at our local won't approve mail ballots so all members can vote in a fair and democratic election."
"Andy will always have our special 'Walk a Day in My Shoes' experience at my local to remember, though. The long hours reading personal information about other members in the SEIU Member Service Center database, the empty union hall devoid of staff and members, the unhappy, disenfranchised SEIU rank and file waiting for a return to democratic union principles and a fair deal for all workers--it's the Paris of SEIU locals for corporate union leaders here in our county--really. And I will make sure to send Andy a nice postcard from Puerto Rico, too." The chief said.
~Catherine Alexander, Chief Steward, SEIU 521
•Focus on the situation, issue, or behavior, not on the person.
•Maintain the self-confidence and self-esteem of others.
•Maintain constructive relationships.
•Take initiative to make things better.
•Lead by example.
Wag more, bark less.
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