The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Stern and Sweeney: rivals and Doppelgänger?
My sense is that union politics operate on a different planet. The unions should be huge for lefties; and there's clearly a slew of fascinating stories for the scribes. But there's no juice there.
It's like a cult TV show that's on permanent hiatus: among the former fans, there's goodwill, nostalgia, but a lack of enthusiasm.
Except, of course, that unions are still in production.
A piece by
former union organizerRobert Fitch picks at some of SEIU's Andy Stern's publicity.
On his success with recruitment, for instance:
He's been regularly putting out the figure of 900,000 new members since he came to power in 1996. But by claiming 1.8 million members, he would have to have started out with 900,000 members in 1996. That's the figure his press people give out. But government figures—based on numbers supplied by SEIU—show that the actual number was 1.1 million. So, he has added only 700,000 members.
And 10% or so of those aren't really workers at all, but people staying at home looking after housebound relatives.
The union claims it has more janitors than ever. But according to the Department of Labor there are 4.4 million building service workers in the United States. Only 225,000 belong to SEIU.
For those janitors that join, things have got worse - but not by quite so much:
In real terms, janitors are paid half what they were in the '80s. Even in the union's flagship janitorial local in New York, starting pay has fallen 20 percent since Stern took over in 1996.
The Shakespearianly tragic - and much remarked on - thing is that Stern took over from mentor John Sweeney when Sweeney left the SEIU to take up the AFL-CIO presidency.
And Fitch, back in 1996, reviewing Sweeney's ghost-written America Needs A Raise, was making rather similar points.
Sweeney also boasted about his increases in SEIU membership. But,
the truth is that the S.E.I.U. grew overwhelmingly not by organizing but through mergers and "accretion"-i.e., the employer added employees, so the union grew, too.
Though Stern does not seem to have had any equivalent to "Greedy" Gus Bevona, the man Sweeney put in charge of
Local 32B-321, the 70,000 member janitors' union mired in corruption. bossism, indictments, job-selling and secret collaboration with employerswhen he took the top SEIU job - and who repaid the courtesy with a job for Sweeney as executive adviser and (purely incidentally) a total $400,000 snaffle on top of his presidential screw.
The process by which Sweeney got to be AFL-CIO Prez - as told by Fitch - is not pretty. Critical was Arthur Coia of the Laborers' International Union of North America - who, a cursory search suggests, was as dirty as hell.
This AFL-CIO valedictory makes Coia sound like Mother Teresa; and Bill Clinton was a Coia groupie, if one can believe this.
About what Stern's ties (if any) with organized crime might be, Fitch's latest piece offers no clues.
I may be beginning dimly to comprehend why lefties prefer to keep union affairs at arm's length...
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