Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Harold Meyerson of The American Prospect has written a facinating article about an ongoing intra-union fight in Illinois:
In 2002, Congressman Rod Blagojevich ran in a hotly contested Democratic primary for governor of Illinois. Unions were all over the map during the primary, but the SEIU joined AFSCME in supporting Blagojevich, not only with money but, for the first time in an Illinois election, with large numbers of ground troops. The union provided roughly 1,000 precinct walkers in the primary campaign’s final weeks, with an estimated 400 coming in from Wisconsin and Ohio, and Blagojevich eked out a 1-percent victory over his rivals. (The Democratic primary was decisive; state Republicans were too damaged by scandal to mount a serious candidacy of their own.)

In exchange for its support, the SEIU won a specific commitment from Blagojevich: an executive order that created collective bargaining rights for the state’s 25,000 home-care workers. For a number of years, the SEIU’s Local 880 had been a legislative advocate for those workers, though it could not represent them in a collective-bargaining relationship absent a legal process to do so. With his executive order, Blagojevich removed those workers from legal limbo, and the SEIU won the vote of the members to represent them at the bargaining table.

On February 18 of this year, Blagojevich signed an equivalent order for the state’s 48,000 child-care workers, decreeing that a representation election be held within 42 days. The SEIU had already collected many thousands of signature cards from those workers (it had 24 organizers collecting those cards since last year), enough to ensure its presence on the ballot. Within a couple of days, AFSCME also assigned organizers -- hundreds of them, from across the nation -- to collect such cards, too.

AFSCME criticized the SEIU -- indeed, it was part of the former’s Article 21 argument in opposing the SEIU’s Article 21 petition -- for obtaining contracts for the home-care workers, and seeking contracts for the child-care workers, that would undercut the standards of other public employees by having no health coverage, no pension benefits, and no workers’ compensation coverage. AFSCME represents state employees who do enjoy such coverage. “We’ve been representing state employees for 30 years,” Illinois AFSCME Executive Director Henry Bayer said last Thursday, “and now SEIU has created a class of employees and signed away their benefits. And Andy Stern says that the AFL-CIO has to enforce contract standards, that that should be a new Article 21 criterion? They came in here and cut our standards!”


Ironically, Illinois is one place where AFSCME and the SEIU have often enjoyed a decent relationship, where both unions are known for having progressive leaders and a good deal of organizing smarts (it’s no accident that both backed Blagojevich). Even more ironically, many of the SEIU’s greatest successes -- most certainly, in organizing child-care and home-care workers -- are the result of its learning to play politics in the manner of AFSCME, which has long used its election-day clout to elect governors who’d recognize public-sector unions. In the past decade, under Stern’s leadership, the SEIU has played the politics-to-organize card expertly, and nowhere more so than in Illinois.
Read it all.

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