FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

SEIU Learns the Meaning of "No"

by STEVE EARLY

When CounterPunch last visited embattled members of the Puerto Rican teachers union in June, they were fighting their way through police lines to appeal to fellow workers from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), at the latter’s lavishly funded convention in San Juan.

The message of the Federacion de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR) was simple: please stop SEIU President Andy Stern’s collusion with the indicted governor of the island to replace FMPR with a “company union.”

At SEIU’s convention, only a handful of delegates dared to challenge Stern on this issue. When eight rank-and-file members from California tried to distribute a leaflet asking why the “top leadership has sided against the teachers of Puerto Rico in a gross case of ‘colonial’ unionism,” SEIU staffers threatened several of them with reprisals. “They told us that this is a betrayal and that we could be suspended from the union if we continued handing out the fliers,” San Francisco Local 1021 delegate Brian Cruz told The San Juan Star.

Most of the 3,000 delegates and guests simply cheered when Stern and SEIU vice-president Dennis Rivera, a native of Puerto Rico, introduced their good friend, Anibal Acevedo Vila, the Popular Democratic Party governor. Acevedo Vila is still awaiting trial on federal corruption charges and it was his administration that precipitated a ten-day, island-wide public school strike led by the FMPR last winter. As The Star reported June 3, SEIU used its convention and the governor’s appearance to promote a rival organization, “which is hoping to become the new union representative for an estimated 42,000 public school teachers.”

In the view of SEIU and Acevedo Vila, teachers needed a new SEIU-affiliated union because FMPR no longer had legal recognition after its walk-out over wages, classroom size, and the threat of privatization. This month, however, the teachers themselves disagreed that it was time for a change. By a vote of 18,123 to 14, 675 (tabulated on Thursday, Oct. 23, by the Puerto Rican labor relations commission), they voted against joining the SEIU-backed SPM (Sindicato Puertorriqueno de Maestros), which is closely aligned with another SEIU affiliate, the Association de Maestros de Puerto Rico, an organization of school principals and administrators.

The “Vote No” campaign was orchestrated by the FMPR which, as further punishment for its “illegal” strike, was denied a spot on the ballot. (FMPR was even barred from having observers at teacher polling places.) Prior to the start of the election, FMPR presented evidence to the labor relations commission showing that it still had voluntary financial support from 12,000 members (who have continued to pay union dues even though deductions from all teachers’ paychecks were discontinued when FMPR was “decertified.”) Although SEIU favors “employee free choice” on the mainland and assured critics here there would be a multiple choice ballot, Stern and his local allies limited Puerto Rican teachers to just one union option, which they then rejected.

The defeated SPM has almost no one paying dues to it so SEIU had to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into this losing effort, much of it spent on advertising. As one FMPR supporter reported, SEIU had “paid staff at each school giving out free t-shirts and coolers and the media and the government were clearly in its favor but still they couldn’t impose their union on us.” FMPR activist Edgardo Alvelo, who teaches at a vocational school in Rio Piedras, estimates that his union spent only “$50,000 on the whole campaign.” According to Alvelo, “that money was very hard to obtain, but it was enough to win. It was our people in the schools that did the job. Today, we are celebrating and tomorrow our struggle will continue in all our schools.”

The representation vote turnout was extremely high. Of the 36,000 teachers eligible to participate due to their permanent status, 33,818 actually voted, with a thousand of those ballots being challenged or voided. FMPR now faces the task of continuing to function as what’s called a “bonafide organization,” under P.R. labor law. While still deprived of the full collective bargaining rights it had before the strike, FMPR retains a strong shop steward structure, the ability to represent members, and mobilize around educational policy issues and day-to-day job concerns.

FMPR supporters in New York, California, and elsewhere aided the successful “Vote No” campaign by raising money to help keep this militant independent union afloat. (For more information, seehttp://mysite.verizon.net/ or the FMPR’s own website: http:fmprlucha.org) On October 14, some protested outside the Manhattan headquarters of United Healthcare Workers-East (the former SEIU/District 1199 long headed by Rivera), where they denounced Stern’s raid on FMPR as an insult to New York hospital workers “proud history of fighting for justice and dignity.”

During an August visit to the mountain community of Utuado, one New York Solidarity Committee member, Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, brought money that was collected for FMPR members disciplined for their union activity. Reports Sheridan-Gonzalez, a registered nurse:

“The union, in collaboration with students and parents, had developed a progressive, inclusive curriculum that was extraordinarily successful. This collaborative structure was unilaterally dismantled by the government/school authority in 2007 and 17 teachers were suspended when they fought back.. They stood firm even without an income and the class of 2008 in Utuado even dedicated their graduation speeches to these teachers. Their energy and commitment was inspiring and reminiscent of the spirit of U.S. unions in the 1930s and Puerto Rican unions in years past.”

That same feisty spirit was on display in this month’s island-wide union vote, which gave SEIU an expensive lesson in the meaning of “No.”

STEVE EARLY is the author of a forthcoming book for Monthly Review Press called “Embedded In Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home.” In any voter profiling of himself, he insists that his last name be used. He can be reached at lsupport@comcast.net

 

Your Ad Here
 

 

 

 

Steve Early is a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area currently working on a book about progressive municipal policy making there and elsewhere. He is the author, most recently, of Save Our Unions (Monthly Review Press, 2013). He can be reached at Lsupport@aol.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
David Yearsley
Handel’s Executioner
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail