The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Rift in SEIU leadership

Mar 17, 2008

One of the top leaders of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Sal Roselli, has resigned from the union’s executive board.

With 1.9 million members, SEIU is one of the largest unions in the country. And Roselli is the head of one of the largest locals within the SEIU. Roselli said he resigned from the executive board so that he could publicly argue with his fellow union leaders about how the union is run – something he said he was not allowed to do as a board member.

In his resignation letter, Roselli especially targeted SEIU president Andy Stern. He accused Stern of being “top-down,” and making deals behind the backs of not only rank-and-file members but also local and regional leaders (like Roselli).

For decades now, big unions in this country have been forming “partnerships” with big companies. In return for the bosses’ promise not to fight unionization in some workplaces, union leaders accept concessions that hurt workers – such as poor wages and benefits, short-staffing, speed-up, and even layoffs and plant closures. And the top leadership of SEIU has been in the forefront of this “partnership” frenzy.

Roselli, who has been part of the union’s top leadership for more than a decade, has been as much for making deals with the bosses as Stern has been. Roselli’s own huge 150,000-member United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) local in California proudly advertizes its partnerships with big companies, such as Kaiser Permanente, California’s largest HMO. However, like at other companies, short-staffing and cutbacks are the order of the day at Kaiser. And while Kaiser has been making record profits year after year, UHW has been telling Kaiser workers to be happy with raises that are below the inflation rate and with yearly bonuses that amount to a few hundred dollars after taxes.

We don’t know if the split between Roselli and Stern is part of a power struggle for the top leadership of SEIU, or an indication of differences of opinion in the leadership of the union. But we do know that unions will change only when workers act to control their own unions, when they organize inside and outside the unions to carry out massive fights over the things that concern them, for example the disappearance of jobs – especially jobs with better pay and benefits.