Union Disses the Kids


By: Warner Todd Huston

The kids at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill feel like they’ve been used and discarded by Andy Stern’s Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and they aren’t happy about it. They are so upset they’ve issued an open letter to the SEIU to air their grievances… not that it’ll matter much.

It seems that the SEIU swooped onto several college campuses and encouraged student activists to organize college foodservice workers and then, assuring the kiddies that all their work was a worthy effort, quietly worked with the colleges NOT to organize the same workers that the kids thought they were enrolling in a union.

At that point the student groups got a tad upset that all their energies went for nothing and who can blame them? After all, they thought that they were striking a blow for “the workers” against those evil “corporate slave masters” in their typically naive, young idealistic enthusiasm.

Some of you readers out there may be a tad confused at this point. Why would the SEIU, one of the most powerful unions in the county, seem to mislead these naive kids and refuse to organize supposedly willing new members? Well, its all a piece with SEIU President Andy Stern’s newest tactic wherein the union works closer with the employer to determine who will be “allowed’ to organize and who will not.

Stern’s process has been to act a little less antagonistic with potential new corporations that might find their employees come under the SEIU’s wing. The SEIU has made many closed door, back room deals with potential corporate members, deals that few of their potential or existing members are allowed to be a part of because these deals are made at the highest level of the SEIU.

The deal is that the SEIU will organize a certain section of a corporation’s workforce, but agree with the corporation not to organize others. The SEIU also agrees not to allow the local unions to enter into scorched earth, vitriolic campaigns against the corporate heads.

What’s in it for the union? Well, for one thing new membership has greatly enlarged for the SEIU. It has also made organizing quite a bit easier and less contentious. The union grows with less pain, the employers seem to feel more a member of the union team and are less antagonistic… seems like a win, win, right?

Wrong. See, to complete these secret back room deals, the locals are completely cut out of the negotiations. And this is what happened to the kids. They were not included in the back room deals that assured several college campuses that their workers would not be included in the new membership enrollments.

So, all the kid’s efforts were left ignored causing these young activists to feel used and abused. This is the same feeling that union locals all across the country have been feeling as the SEIU national office in Washington D.C. has undercut their efforts and swept in behind the scenes to cut secret deals as per Andy Stern’s agenda.

It turns out that these kids are learning a rough lesson that politics isn’t beanbag. They are also finding that there is no pure ideology in activism and compromise will happen no matter how “righteous” they think their little cause is.

Of course, it is quite amusing that a union has forged ahead with a top down, iron-fisted mode of leadership, completely cutting out the local organizations. This tactic seems to be a reflection of the top down, corporate leadership that unions constantly claim makes the business sector so anti-worker, doesn’t it?

Stern’s action rightfully seem heretical to most rank and file union members. But, in the end, if the SEIU gets as powerful as Andy Stern imagines in his wildest dreams they mights, who doesn’t realize that all these tender tactics will be thrown in the dustbin and the usual, thuggish, union behavior will once again become de rigueur.

In other words, Stern is playing for chumps every corporation that works with him under these delicate new rules. They are laying the groundwork for their own demise as Stern slyly builds his trap.

Still, Stern’s is a cynical and anti-intuitive agenda and it is worrying most union rank and file organizers. Stern’s gambit could reap a bounty or the whirlwind. I’m rootin’ for the later.

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