SEIU Suffers a Major Loss in California

The powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has taken a major hit from a rival union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), which is led by a former SEIU dissident. The Los Angeles Times reports that Kaiser Permanente workers throughout California have voted to disaffiliate from SEIU and join NUHW.

Before he was removed by the SEIU’s national leadership, NUHW President Sal Rosselli headed the Oakland, California, SEIU affiliate, United Healthcare Workers West (UHW). Rosselli had opposed SEIU chief Andy Stern’s plans for consolidating SEIU local unions into giant mega-locals. The aim of that consolidation was to shift SEIU’s organizing model away from small, specialized locals, which represent workers at a specific employer or group of employers, toward organizing entire industries covering large geographical areas.

In fact, a major factor in SEIU’s split from the AFL-CIO in 2005 was resistance by other union leaders to proposals by Stern and Teamsters President James Hoffa to reorganize the entire labor federation along similar lines — consolidating the AFL-CIO’s member unions (58 at the time) into about 20 mega-unions. That some other union chiefs would be reluctant to give up their fiefs should not be surprising.

Neither should it be surprising for local union presidents within SEIU to resist Stern’s centralizing strategy, which he has been pursuing some for years now. (It’s also worth nothing that the man whom Stern originally designated as his representative in the California merger that included UHW became mired in scandal.)

For Stern, this could turn out to be even worse news than it already is, if it were to inspire other discontented union members to resist his centralizing efforts in similar fashion. As Politico‘s Ben Smith reports:

An insider explains that Andy Stern foe and UHW leader “Sal Roselli is still a very charismatic/popular leader to the rank and file. They also have a very tight old/school organizing model that is much more in touch with the members. As others have pointed out think of SEIU as the US in Vietnam…NUHW is the Viet Cong.”

While Smith doesn’t identify the “insider,” the Vietnam analogy was used aptly back in June 2009, by Randy Shaw in the Bay Area Wed daily,, in describing SEIU’s shock-and-awe approach to an election in Fresno. SEIU won that election, but at huge cost:

Just as Vietnam revealed the United States’ inability to impose its will on other nations, Fresno has exposed SEIU’s vulnerability in California. The fact that SEIU had to parachute in so many top staffers from outside California to run its Fresno campaign raises serious questions about the union’s hold on the state – which includes a full third of its entire membership.

For more on SEIU and the Stern-Rosselli fight, see here, here, and here.