Wednesday, June 09, 2010

SEIU: Ironic Ball Busting By Blanche Lincoln

Last night, in the Natural State of Arkansas, something somewhat unnatural happened.

Incumbent U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln, against all odds and overwhelming political prognostication, defeated Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in a run-off election in the Democrat Primary.

In spite of being lambasted by millions of dollars worth of negative TV ads, mailers, and phone calls paid for by SEIU and the AFL-CIO, as well a tidal surge of anti-incumbency, she won with 52% of the vote.

Why is this race important to me, an Ohioan, you ask?

Well, I was on the staff of SEIU for nearly five years. More specifically, on the staff of SEIUDistrict 1199 W/K/O, which represents some 14,000 workers in West By God Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio.

I left my last position with them, which was that of Political Director in 2002, but I continued to follow news about SEIU.

When I left SEIU in 2002, it was because I noticed a profound change seeping into the organization. Led by Andy Stern and Dave Regan both of whom I worked for and with, SEIU was becoming “different”.

When I started, organizing new workers was the focus, because it was important that overworked and underpaid health care workers, nursing home aides, and public sector employees made a decent wage and felt a modicum of respect.

Certainly any political pressure that can be applied, aids in meeting that goal, but the penultimate ideal remained achieving dignity for under-appreciated and under-compensated workers.

SEIU in general and my local specifically, were different from other unions. The members actually did run the business of the union.

It was not a top down, monolithic union run by sweaty union kingpins wearing seven gold chains around their necks, sporting pinky rings, and smoking cheap cigars.

Things began to change a couple of years into my stint with SEIU. Votes on proposed by-laws, dues increases, and political activities by the members were no longer quite as open in a sense.

Sure, votes were still cast as always, but those of us on the staff were “encouraged” to make certain that our particular group of members voted in the way the “union” deemed best.

At this point SEIU was growing, and growing quickly. It was the only union actually adding thousands of members a year. SEIU was in a word, successful.

And maybe, that was what constituted the change in philosophy.

SEIU was becoming a victim of its own success.

As SEIU grew to 2 million members, decisions had to be made more and more, from the top down. This was especially true in the area of politics, and last night it showed.

SEIU and the AFL-CIO poured 10 million dollars into a race in Arkansas, a state that has very few unionized workers, to defeat a candidate with whom they disagree.

It is yet another example of them backing a loser…

Howard Dean (whom I greatly respect), Rod Blogojevich, and former Detroit Mayor and now inmate Number Whatever, Kwame Kilpatrick, for whom I walked many an hour for in the hoods of Detroit.

Well folks, here’s the irony…

SEIU has quitely, and effectively for years, improved the life of workers, cast light on workplace violations, and more recently raised hell over corporate bailouts, but…

After pouring in millions of dollars to defeat Blanche Lincoln...Lincoln said last night in her victory speech, “This Senator’s vote cannot be bought…”

She was, at the same time, expressing something else.

SEIU has become what it never intended to be, and something for which it holds great disdain…

A corporation.



Jay said...

I saw that someone at the White House took a shot at the SEIU last night over their "pissing away" $10 million dollars.

And as for Lincoln? Her vote can be bought. That's why drew an opponent to begin with. And why she almost lost. Not to mention her tendency to take millions of dollars from corporations and then do exactly what they want and then come back home and say silly things like "My vote can't be bought."

Halter got millions from unions.

Lincoln got million from big agri and health insurance companies.

That's the way politics works in this country.

Charlene said...

I supervised a small staff under union contract in the late 70's. The union was the CWA.

Personally, I believe that unions are needed in almost any industry in America because someone needs to speak for the worker. But my experience saw a 3 year contract be the only contract and management worked in many ways to get rid of the union. It worked because the union guys were bought off. It's wrong for a worker to pay dues and not get what they paid for. Unfortunately this kind of thing is the reputation of unions today.

Doc said...

Isn't she on the board of Wal-Mart? (or was that Hillary? I forget)

Matt-Man said...

Jay: I understand what you say about Lincoln, but I was just talking from a viewpoint of what SEIU used to be. I don't like Lincoln, but she in this case, gave SEIU a smack on the head. Cheers Jay!!

Charlene: Well, if they had a bad contract and voted it up, they should have voted it down. Its also wrong for unionized to expect the "union" to do everything for them. Those guys of whom you speak ARE the union. Cheers Charlene!!

Doc: I have no idea. Cheers Doc!!

Jay said...

Oh I see your point about SEIU. I just prefer to focus on me and my thoughts. LOL

I think that your belief that SEIU has kind of lost it's way is true. A lot of people believe the same thing has happened to both political parties. More so the democratic party, but both have the same problem. They seem to have forgotten who they used to represent.

I understand their desire to take out Blanche. She killed card check. But, they aren't looking at the big picture. Blanche may be bad for them most of the time, but a republican will be bad for them ALL of the time.

Matt-Man said...

Jay: Ha, of course you do.

Your comparison between SEIU and both parties is dead on. They don't care. It's all about winning seats.

Yeah, card check is dead with her. And, while I don't think she will will win in November, SEIU and the AFL-CIO forgot a Golden Rule...

If you are going to swing an axe at a King, or in this case, a Queen, you'd better make sure you lop their head off.

Cheers Jay!!

Marilyn said...

Having worked for myself most of my adult life I have no clue about unions except that I'm generally in favor of them... generally, not specifically. Anyway, that was a very informative and insightful post.

Matt-Man said...

Marilyn: I have my moments when I'm informative and not a jerk. CHeers Marilyn!!

Mike said...

"A corporation."

They all become that way eventually. I was on both sides of the CWA so I had both views. As a union steward and as a company manager.

Matt-Man said...

Mike: So did I, it gave way to my spine...and conscience. Cheers Mike

Lu' said...

Well written Matt-Man; good read.

Matt-Man said...

Lu: Why thank ya dear. I thought it was as well. Cheers Hot Stuff!!

Jeff B said...

The amount of money that get shuffled around and blown on these races amazes me. 10 million, and that's just one side of one primary in one state. A necessary evil in politics...or is it?

Scott Oglesby said...

I worked for the Teamsters 250 while at the turnpike and the same thing happened with them. Nah, I think they’ve always been about the power and money.

And in my opinion, health care workers should have their own minimum wage. Around 15 an hour.

Matt-Man said...

Jeff: Money is necessary for a good campaign, but 10 mil on this race as you said? I don't think so. Cheers Jeff!!

Scott: I agree, and Nursing Home aides really get the shaft. Some home owners are really shitty to their staff. Cheers Scott!!