|Bogus Low Wage Unionism
The Facts Behind the Justice For Janitors Campaign
"DEMOCRACY" SEIU STYLE, TRUSTEE APPOINTED BY ANDY STERN ELECTED PRESIDENT OF A LOCAL HE ISN'T A MEMBER OF
from the FORWARD:
LOCAL 32bj OF THE SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION REPRESENTS 55,000 COMMERCIAL AND RESIDENTIAL BUILDING SERVICE WORKERS IN NEW YORK CITY. THE LOCAL WAS BIGGER, 70,000 WORKERS AT ONE TIME, BUT IT'S FORMER PRESIDENT, $ 400,000 A YEAR REPUTED ORGANIZED CRIME ASSOCIATE GUS BEVONA, ALLOWED MANY EMPLOYERS TO RIP UP UNION CONTRACTS AND DECERTIFY.
32bj'S MEMBERS ARE THE BEST PAID BUILDING SERVICE WORKERS IN AMERICA, WITH $17 AN HOUR AS TOP SCALE, [MANY MEMBERS MAKE LESS, THEY HAVE A MULTI TIERED CONTRACT]. STILL ABOUT $8 BUCKS LESS THAN THE BUILDING SERVICE WORKERS BUILDING TRADES COUNTERPARTS, LABORERS, WHO MAKE $ 25.55, BUT, BETTER THAN THE NEAR MINIMUM WAGE CONTRACTS OF MOST OTHER SEIU BUILDING TRADES LOCALS.
OF COURSE, 32bj'S PAY SCALE SAYS LESS ABOUT HOW GOOD THEIR CONTRACTS ARE, BUT HOW BAD THE REST OF THAT UNION IS.
32bj JUST CAME OUT OF TRUSTEESHIP, AND THEY HAVE AN ELECTED PRESIDENT, ONE MIKE FISHMAN. FISHMAN WAS THE TRUSTEE THAT THE SEIU'S $ 250,000 A YEAR PRESIDENT, ANDY STERN, APPOINTED.
AND, IN THE TYPICAL TOTALITARIAN STYLE OF THE SELF PROCLAIMED "LOW WAGE UNION", FISHMAN never worked a day in his life as a building service
FISHMAN IS A FORMER OFFICER OF THE UNITED BROTHERHOOD OF CARPENTERS AND JOINERS OF AMERICA, WHO WAS HIRED ONTO THE SEIU STAFF. AT ONE POINT IN HIS YOUTH, FISHMAN ACTUALLY WORKED AS A CARPENTER, BUT HE'S NEVER CLEANED A BUILDING, OR BEEN A DOORMAN.
QUARTER MILLION A YEAR SEIU PRESIDENT STERN ACTUALLY HAD TO AMEND 32bjS BYLAWS TO ALLOW SOMEBODY LIKE FISHMAN WHO HADN'T ACTUALLY BEEN A MEMBER TO BE THE LOCAL PRESIDENT!
AND, OF COURSE, THE GUY WHO WAS ONE OF THE leaders OF THE REFORM MOVEMENT IN 32bj, BUILDING PORTER CARLOS GUZMAN, WAS SHUT OUT OF ANY LEADERSHIP POSITION.
AND, IT GETS UGLIER.
LOCAL 32bj, LIKE MANY SEIU BUILDING SERVICE LOCALS, IS MOSTLY LATINO,
ABOUT 70%, AND MOST OF THE WHITE, BLACK AND ASIAN MEMBERS ARE ALSO IMMIGRANTS. BUT, IT'S ALWAYS BEEN RUN BY AMERICAN BORN WHITE OFFICERS. FISHMAN CONTINUES THAT TRADITION.
BUT, THE NEW LOCAL 32bj PRESIDENT, AND JOANN BARKAN, THE AUTHOR OF THE ARTICLE BELOW, TRY TO FLIP THE SCRIPT. THEY IMPLY THAT GUZMAN SENT OUT ANONYMOUS "ANTI SEMETIC" LEAFLETS AGAINST FISHMAN. OF COURSE, THIS ENABLES FISHMAN TO DODGE THE BIG QUESTION; WHY DOES A MAJORITY LATINO LOCAL HAVE A WHITE PRESIDENT?
BARKAN ALSO CONTINUES HER BIAS TOWARDS FISHMAN BY ONLY QUOTING WORKERS WHO SUPPORTED HIM, AND NOT QUOTING ANY GUZMAN SUPPORTERS. GUZMAN IS DEPICTED IN THE QUOTES AS "...he wasn't prepared to be union president. He was just a little guy like me." OR "I don't think he's qualified to handle a big job like that,You need experience for that kind of responsibility."
WHICH IS JUST A NICE WAY OF SAYING THAT JANITORS ARE TOO DUMB TO RUN THEIR OWN UNION. AND USING THE JOURNALISTIC TRICK OF MAKING THE AUTHOR'S ANTI BUILDING SERVICE WORKER BIAS LOOK LEGITIMATE BY QUOTING BUILDING SERVICE WORKERS AS SAYING THE SLURS THEMSELVES.
IT APPEARS THAT REPORTER BARKAN HAS THE EXACT SAME CONTEMPTIOUS MENTALITY TOWARDS BUILDING SERVICE WORKERS AS THE SEIU LEADERSHIP ITSELF.
SO MUCH FOR "DEMOCRACY" IN THE "LOW WAGE UNION" THE SEIU. FRATERNALLY, GREGORY A. BUTLER,LOCAL 608 CARPENTER, FOR GANGBOX, CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE http://www.egroups.com/group/gangbox http://www.geocities.com/gangbox/ "UNION NOW, UNION FOREVER"
New Boss Vows To Clean Up Janitors' Union
A Fresh Face, or an Outsider Who Signals a Lack of Democracy?
By JOANNE BARKAN
It could have been a scene straight out of an uplifting Hollywood union saga:
AFL-CIO president John Sweeney and 700 workers gathered in New York City earlier this month to watch the swearing-in of a reform administration that salvaged a corrupt union. It was, in fact, the very union where Mr. Sweeney started his career.
For most observers, the election of Mike Fishman as president of local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union marked a new beginning for one of the region's largest private-sector unions. The local represents 55,000 janitors, doormen and superintendents in residential and commercial buildings in the city and northern New Jersey.
But for others, the picture is not all rosy, and for them the election of a putative "outsider" is a sign of a lack of internal democracy and rank-and-file involvement in the labor movement.
Mr. Fishman belonged to the team of trustees sent in by SEIU's Washington headquarters to take charge of the local after rank-and-file dissidents toppled longtime boss Gus Bevona in February 1999. Mr. Bevona was forced out after lawsuits disclosed that he was earning a salary of more than $400,000 and had outfitted his office as a marble palace.
Critics point to the fact that Mr. Fishman did not rise through the ranks of the local and the fact that only 18% of the membership voted in the election .
"The new leadership is honest, and they're trying to do something decent," Carl Biers, the director of the Association for Union Democracy, told the Forward. "But it's a top-down, staff-driven model. They come in with a plan and dictate what the members' role is."
The most vocal critic of the new leadership is Carlos Guzman, a building porter who initiated the insurgency that brought down Mr. Bevona. For years Mr. Guzman had been accusing Mr. Bevona of autocratic leadership and mismanaging union funds. His lawsuits showed that Mr. Bevona had hired private investigators, at union expense, to harass him.
"I led the revolution against Bevona. I struggled for almost 10 years," Mr. Guzman told the Forward. "So I deserve to be the union's leader. But they don't want a minority person. I don't think I have a right to leadership because I'm a minority; I have a right because I brought Bevona down."
The Ecuadorian-born Mr. Guzman, 53, has been a member of the local 32BJ for 30 years. He ran for union president against Mr. Bevona three times in the 1990s. This year, running against Mr. Fishman and a third candidate, he pulled 906 votes to Mr. Fishman's 7,785.
Mr. Fishman, the new president, is a onetime carpenter who rose through the ranks of the carpenters' union before coming to the service employees as an aide to union president Andrew Stern. Both Mr. Stern and Mr. Fishman are Jewish, although that appears to play little role in the current dispute. About one-eighth of the union chiefs who make up the AFL-CIO executive council are Jewish.
Mr. Fishman insists Mr. Guzman was offered a role in rebuilding the union and denies any ethnic discrimination. "When the trusteeship began, Carlos was asked to be part of the team," Mr. Fishman told the Forward. "But he refused to come in. Carlos just wanted to run the union."
Mr. Fishman said that another dissident, Dominick Bentivegna, accepted union proposals and is now an elected officer. Mr. Bentivegna confirmed that and stated that other dissidents had joined the staff. Mr. Guzman is now challenging the August 7 balloting, claiming that Mr. Fishman's election violates the 32BJ constitution because the new president is technically not a local member. His challenge is now before the leadership of SEIU. If he's unsuccessful, Mr. Guzman said, he'll take his complaint to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Labor experts note that the local's constitution was suspended when trustees were brought in, making Mr. Guzman's legal case weak. Yet "he has a strong ethical point," Mr. Biers said. "The international [union] wasn't friendly and didn't reach out to him during the years he was struggling against Bevona. It's a common thing in the labor movement to look on independent-minded, principled members as annoyances."
According to Mr. Guzman, he and Mr. Bentivegna worked out an agreement with the top leadership of SEIU in January 1999 to drop their lawsuit against Mr. Bevona in exchange for Mr. Bevona's resignation. The two dissidents were to be offered "positions of responsibility" when SEIU set up the trusteeship.
Mr. Guzman maintains that SEIU didn't keep the deal, assigning him instead to lower-level jobs. "I told them that in my country when someone makes trouble, they send him to another country to get rid of him," he said. "I just went back to my old job as a porter."
The drama began in 1998 when lawsuits initiated by Mr. Guzman disclosed that Mr. Bevona was drawing a princely salary and had spent $500,000 in union funds to publish a book praising his own leadership. Just before his departure, Mr. Bevona negotiated golden parachutes - worth about $7 million in total - for himself, his wife and several dozen associates.
A week after Mr. Bevona stepped down, SEIU invited reporters to tour his private, 3,000-square-foot penthouse office - a suite of more than a dozen marble-covered rooms in an office tower that Mr. Bevona had built in the early 1990s.
According to union officials, local 32BJ lost some 10,000 members between 1995 and 1999 by allowing major firms such as Citibank to contract out cleaning services to non-union companies. In the 18 months following Mr. Bevona's departure, the local's trustees began to reverse the long-term decline. Since 1999, membership has grown to 55,000 from about 52,000.
"Our goal is to organize 10,000 new members during our three-year term of office," Mr. Fishman said.
Mr. Fishman's commitment to labor organizing began when he dropped out of college and became a carpenter. "I saw my good union wages being threatened by non-union workers," he said. "Organizing is the only way to keep up good wages for those who have them. Plus, every worker should be organized into a union."
Local 32BJ's focus on organizing reflects the strategy of the AFL-CIO since 1995, when John Sweeney became president. Since then, "Grow or Die" has become a labor-movement slogan. Most observers agree that increasing membership is crucial to rescuing the movement. Although Mr. Sweeney has managed to brake the membership decline, unionization has not grown significantly. It still hovers at around 17% of the American labor force, down from about one-third in the 1950s. Labor advocates say the decline in union membership is a key reason for growing American income inequality, currently the highest in the industrialized world. Some observers argue that organizing new members without boosting internal democracy does little to fight apathy and strengthen the membership. "The fact that there wasn't a higher turnout for the election reflects the members' sense that things haven't changed," said Mr. Biers, the union-democracy advocate. The average turnout for local union is about 25%, he said.
For Mr. Fishman, the 18% turnout for local 32BJ's election was disappointing but not surprising. "It was a little less than we'd expected, for sure," he said. "But about a thousand more members voted this time than in the last election. We want to raise it more."
Another striking feature of the election results was the low number of votes won by Mr. Guzman. Because Mr. Fishman and his slate had led the union for 18 months, they had the advantages of incumbency. But the dissidents, especially Mr. Guzman, received a great deal of press attention at the time of Mr. Bevona's departure.
Several union members interviewed by the Forward said they saw Mr. Guzman as a courageous man who had taken risks and made sacrifices but that they didn't see him as a union president. "I don't think he's qualified to handle a big job like that," said Jerry Rodriguez, doorman and shop steward for 35 years on Manhattan's Upper West Side. "You need experience for that kind of responsibility."
"He did a really good thing," another doorman said. "He was the first to go after Bevona, but he wasn't prepared to be union president. He was just a little guy like me."
Neither union officials nor rank-and-file members thought prejudice had played a part in the elections - although an unsigned anti-Semitic leaflet appeared on the Upper East Side one day in July.
"It showed a photo of me and my slate," Mr. Fishman said. "It read, 'Don't let Rabbi Fishman and his minions take over our union.' We responded with an immediate statement asking whoever it was to stop. It was an anomalous event." Mr. Guzman said he knew nothing about the leaflet's origin. "From the beginning in 1986, I've put my name at the bottom of all my fliers. I
get the credit or the blame."
When asked if his Jewish background had ever been the cause of tension or even a topic of interest, Mr. Fishman said, "No. There is so much diversity in 32BJ. It's a wonderful thing about our local."
According to union figures, 70% of the local's members are foreign-born. They come from 60 countries and speak 25 languages. After English, Spanish is the most common language, with sizeable groups speaking Albanian, Polish, and Serbian. Recent Irish immigrants make up about 4% of the membership.
Under Mr. Fishman's leadership the union is mounting an organizing drive at a half-dozen buildings in downtown Manhattan. It is also fighting in Queens and Nassau county against HIP, a health maintenance organization that dismissed its union contractor for maintenance work and hired a non-union company. The non-union company fired longtime workers making $12 an hour and hired new workers for the health plan at $7 an hour - without health benefits.
Local 32BJ officials are still trying to solve a real estate problem created by the previous regime: finding a tenant for Mr. Bevona's penthouse.
Officials say renting the property could bring in as much as $1 million
a year. But, a union spokesperson said, "it's an odd space - not quite
office, not quite apartment. And a lot of people aren't crazy about having
everything covered with marble."