(NOTE: See the updates at bottom of this article. This especially applies to all SEIU members.)
Farhyo Ibrahim is a janitor working for ABM at the Seattle Tacoma airport. A member of SEIU Local 6, she was asked to help campaign for the reelection of her local leadership. When she refused, her employer transferred her to the graveyard shift, explaining that this was coming from the union itself.
Why is Farhyo and dozens like her supporting an opposition slate of candidates, even at the cost of harassment on their jobs? Mike Ladd, opposition candidate for executive board, explains: “the main issue is the work load. Over the years, the janitorial companies have been increasing and increasing the work load, and if you don’t complete the amount assigned to you, you will get written up. We’re being asked to clean more and more space at the same quality or higher.
“This has been going on – work load has been an issue for over a decade. If they don’t complete what they’re told to cover, told to cover all this ground and make it look perfect, depending on the situation they can get written up; discipline is involved. In extreme cases, things have gotten so bad that we’ve had members pass out on the job from all this work load.”
Mike added that in one infamous case, a worker who was assigned to work alone passed out and actually died on the job a few years back.
Employers “just blow us off”
At times, grievances are filed, but this procedure is extremely time consuming and bureaucratic, and often times, even if the member wins the grievance, the employer “just blows us off,” Mike says. And the union leadership is extremely reluctant to go to the final step of arbitration, which they say is too costly.
It seems there are several issues involved here. On the one hand, outside of Seattle there is a high vacancy rate in office buildings. So the property owners put pressure on the building maintenance contractors, who take it out on their employees. “S__t runs downhill,” as they say. This is connected with the general union busting that is happening right throughout all sectors of the US economy.
On the other side, the entire union leadership in one way or another follows the “team concept” or “union management partnership”. This means they support the idea that the union and the unionized employers are on the same team, that they are in a partnership. The inevitable result is that the union leadership will help the unionized employers keep labor costs down to help them compete with the non-union. In practice, this means that the unionized workers have to compete with the non-union ones for who will work cheaper. This destroys the entire purpose of having a union, which is to get rid of that sort of competition.
We saw this in action in the campaign for a $15 per hour minimum wage at the SeaTac airport. There, the unionized employers were excluded from having to pay that wage. David Rolf, another SEIU union leader, explained We always want to offer an olive branch and a high road approach to employers of conscience who prefer to have direct and honest relations to unions that they are facing across the bargaining table.” Sergio Salinas, President of SEIU Local 6, also participated in that campaign at SeaTac and apparently has no problems with this approach.
Struggle “takes on life of its own”
So, in order to really fight the issue of increased work load, a direct open confrontation with both the janitorial service companies (many of which are nation-wide) and the property owners would be necessary. Simply filing grievances won’t do it, as members of Local 6 have seen. And there lies the problem, as Mike explains: “The union leaders don’t want any sort of movement that’s out of their control directly. Because if it is, it’s going to take on its own life, it’s going to take on it own demands, and its own political position. It’s not going to accept the conservative position of the labor leadership and the Democratic Party. That’s why they’re afraid of another ‘WTO moment.’ But they’re always trying to avoid a struggle because it emboldens people.
“And that’s the problem right there, as far as the workload issue too. Sure, we have to file grievances and stuff like that. But to really do something, to win a strike over this issue, they have to do this big mobilization; they have to really confront all the powers that be with our own strength – just like was done in the 1930s; and that’s what they’re afraid of. So instead, they repress the membership.”
Mike Ladd Explains further
That’s also why an opposition slate has been organized in Local 6, and that’s why the leadership of the local is trying to repress it. Here is Mike, explaining what’s happening with the local election:
Member’s Power and Democratic Reform at SEIU 6 is a grassroots campaign made up of rank and file janitors, security officers, and allied industry workers. We fight for and demand that all major decision making power be placed directly back into the hands of the union membership, and that all elected officers and full time staff should be held accountable to the will of the members they are paid to serve.
We are sick and tired of seeing the employers grow rich while our union staff turns a blind eye to the problems facing our fellow members every day, such as ever increasing amounts of workload (speedups) which has lead to janitors dying on the job.
We are sick and tired of seeing good and honest shop stewards and workplace leaders blacklisted, isolated, and ostracized for zealously fighting for their coworkers and having the courage to stand up to the current President Sergio Salinas and his wrong doings. The internal climate today is that of fear for the average worker. Union staff and leadership should be here to help us – not rule over us.
And we are sick and tired of fighting hard to protect our communities while the current union leadership cuts deals behind our backs while the bosses and big business politicians. We cannot survive on another four years of “modest” (translation: meager, stagnating) contracts and living standards.
In nearly a decade long reign as President, Sergio Salinas has enjoyed little or next to no official opposition to his policies during union elections. That all changed with the formation of Members’ Power and Democratic Reform Campaign last month. Since then the environment within the union and in the workplace has become ever more repressive.
On September 25th Members’ Power Presidential Candidate Amelia Vassar publicly declared her intention to run in the coming election this December. No less than a day later her house was broken into and ransacked. Over the last month we have heard reports almost daily about full time staff and leadership threatening and intimidating our coworkers on the job for collecting nomination signatures for Amelia Vassar, Nur Abishakur, and expressing sympathy for the Members’ Power campaign generally. (please read the section “Farhiyos Story” in the campaign attached below)
Even veteran SEIU 6 members have expressed concern that if they sign our nomination petitions and “it gets back to Sergio” that they will somehow loose their jobs. Currently, many of our coworkers have serious questions as to the real relationship between the union officials and the employers. Considering this situation, many of our candidates and campaign supporters are preparing themselves for possible retaliation from the union officials, the bosses on the job, or some combination of the two.”
Amelia Vassar, candidate for president, was first declared ineligible to run for president by Sergio’s hand-picked election committee. The reason given was that she was on staff and had never worked in the industry. That is the exact same situation that Sergio was in when he first ran for office in the local. After she was declared ineligible, this single mother was called in and fired for “disloyalty.” Oakland Socialist urges all unionists and all socialists to support this opposition slate. We don’t know everything about them, but if they are campaigning around the issue of really fighting the employers, they must be on the right road. They are having a rally on this Saturday, Oct. 18, at 1:00 p.m. at SEIU Local 6 hall, 3720 Airport Way S. in Seattle. We urge union supporters to attend.
Latest Update to this story: Amelia Vassar – a single mother – has been fired by Sergio Salinas for “disloyalty.” This is an indication of how democratically he intends to run this election. We urge members of SEIU to contact us and/or the Local 6 reform slate to find out what they can do to ensure a democratic election in Local 6. The reform slate can be contacted on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/reformseiu6