Monday, February 2, 2009

Leaving SEIU: Parallels Between National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) Struggle and United Service and Allied Workers-RI

Backstory on Struggles of Healthcare Workers with SEIU includes story of library workers of the United Service and Allied Workers-RI.

In 2002-3, Rhode Island janitors, campus maintenance workers, and library workers represented by SEIU Local 134 were similarly told they had to merge with a Boston-based building service workers local that Stern had recently put under trusteeship. When the vast majority signed a petition to keep their own local, their wishes were ignored and members started to form an independent union, the United Service and Allied Workers-RI. Former Brown librarian and 134 business agent Karen McAninch felt compelled to support that initiative. So, she says, “the local was trusteed and I was suspended, along with all the elected officers and stewards.” Yet, by 2007, almost all of 134’s original bargaining units had voted to switch from SEIU to USAW-RI, when their contracts expired or pre-contract expiration “open periods” enabled workers to file labor board petitions to decertify Stern’s union. In the meantime, USAW-RI managed to organize 90 new members at the Providence Library, while fending off a costly, harassing lawsuit filed by SEIU against McAninch and former 134 officer Charlie Wood, who were both accused of breaching their “fiduciary duty” to the International union. (USAW’s legal defense was aided by fundraising appeals in both Labor Notes and Union Democracy Review).

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