In light of today’s ever growing tension in the heated health care debate, one would be remiss not to take notice of the prominent presence of SEIU and its affiliated partnerships in the fray. The powerful labor union not only has lots of boots on the ground in workplaces and in public social settings all across the nation, but it holds a hefty seat directly at the President’s table, with Obama’s appointment of Change to Win Chair and SEIU Secretary Treasurer Anna Burger to his Economic Recovery Advisory Board, as well as several other SEIU leaders who occupy spots all throughout his administration…and several NOT directly in his administration who visit the White House regularly. An additional look at their history in creating the SEIU Health Care division, as well as some of the SEIU’s own presentations, may lead you to ask:
So, why is SEIU playing such a central role in this health care discussion? There’s a long history and very targeted strategy behind the answers to that question.
The History & Launch of SEIU Health Care Regulating & Organizing Home Health Care and Child Care Workers Creating Crisis Using the Issue of Health Care SEIU Inside the White House
On the surface, it might seem logical that SEIU would endorse the president’s agenda for universal health care. SEIU is short for Service Employees International Union. The labor union represents 2.1 million service employees, with 1 million of those alone in their Health Care division – among them lab technicians, hospital workers, dieticians, radiology assistants, nursing home workers, home care workers and others. Perhaps those in favor of a government-run option lend credibility to SEIU because of its membership demographics and its implicit expertise in health care. But does the SEIU truly have the necessary expertise in health care issues to contribute productive feedback to the debate, or are there other factors at work here?
Surely, SEIU would stand to gain tremendously if every American were required to have health insurance. Even more, their membership rosters would explode if the health care workers doles were increased, especially if most or all of the health care system were to be consolidated into a single bloated government option. After all, SEIU is THE union of not only the health care and child care workers, but also that of state government/public service employees.
I decided to thoroughly analyze this situation and make some observations about SEIU’s positioning in the agenda of the current White House administration. If you’re patient enough to follow me here as I acquaint you with all the details first, then you’ll be able to step back to see the big picture for yourself at the end of this article.
Let’s start by looking at some of SEIU’s own strategic planning documents.
These are plans and presentations that the union and its leadership designed in their efforts to grow and retain their membership for the long term in the face of declining union membership numbers, as various employment anti-discrimination laws, worker protection rules and workplace safety regulations have progressively diminished the need for unions in the US. A good deal of content in some of the presentations immediately led me to question which came first – the health care reform initiative and then the SEIU membership growth strategy? Or did the SEIU’s aggressive strategy for growth actually manufacture today’s rallying cry for health care reform?
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been without health insurance before, and as someone with Lupus and with a permanent spinal injury, I know health care inside and out and I know we need reform. But has SEIU forced this issue to another level altogether?
Take a look first at some of the highlights gleaned from an SEIU presentation from November of 2007, where SEIU strategizes, with others, on how to create a political opportunity that will in turn create demand for their services and create new membership opportunities for their union. The most important priority for achieving such opportunities, they decided, would be the issue of Health Care.
For instance, one of the key highlights of the presentation emphasizes that the issue of universal health care coverage should become a number one lobbying priority in the SEIU strategy because success in doing so “creates demand for SEIU-provided services”. Further slides go on to describe that SEIU must make this topic a “Sympathetic Americans issue” and “put opposition on the defense”. Again, this presentation was made in November of 2007, long before the 2008 presidential election. But something else about the timeline struck me. It followed only months after SEIU announced its creation of a new division of its union – SEIU Health Care.
Organizing Health Care Workers:
The Launch of SEIU Health Care
SEIU first created their health care division, SEIU Health Care, in June of 2007, after years of separate, regionally focused local organizing efforts for the classification of health care workers across the country collaborated to successfully unite more than one million of them under a single, large international union.
As early as the 1990’s, SEIU had recognized that health care service workers already organized under their public service workers division could be heavily leveraged as a separate division to attract the 9 million non-unionized health care workers in the US and Puerto Rico. By the early 2000’s, they began trying to build credibility in the health care sector by aggressively organizing new worker classifications under their membership, adding nurses and LPNs, aides in hospitals and nursing homes, dieticians, therapists, imaging and lab personnel, and even home child care providers. In some cases, these were even hostile takeovers, such as in the cases of the California Nurses Association (CAN) the United Healthcare Workers (UHW) unions, which had wanted to remain their own unions.
For those who are relatively new to the history of SEIU, their organizing methods have long been considered thug-like, and have often involved questionable tactics at best in building their prospect lists and in partnering with other groups to expand their membership. With their roots having been in Arkansas under the same leadership and umbrella as the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN), they share a rich history of the same Saul Alinsky “Rules for Radicals” methods and tools of the trade. In fact, the labor union’s current and former leaders take great pride in employing such tactics to have built up their strong membership bases, particularly in areas like Chicago (see Keith Kelleher’s analysis of one of the strongest SEIU locals in organizing history, below).
“Dumpster Diving” became a time-honored tool for [new member prospect] list building. – Keith Kelleher, Head Organizer, SEIU Local 880 (Chicago), from “Growth of a Modern Union Local: A People’s History of SEIU Local 880 ” (pdf)
And so, armed with standard tactics, by the mid 2000’s, SEIU leadership began creating a new long-term growth strategy to address declining nationwide union membership trends, a strategy that not only included health care, but would put it front and center as the driving force to keep the SEIU union lifeblood alive. Focusing on local and regional issues, they partnered with various entities to pass legislation at the state and federal government levels that, while serving honorable intentions, would without doubt also increase SEIU membership in the long run, such as H.R 1222 (the Nurse Staffing Standards for Patient Safety and Quality Care Act of 2005, reintroduced by Jan Schakowsky in 2009), S. 2061 (the Fair Home Health Care Act of 2007, which went all the way to the Supreme Court and was denied) and H.R. 3001 (the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act).
In parallel, SEIU was expanding its benefits programs for Health Care workers specifically, in an effort to more aggressively recruit and attract new members, offering health care, pensions, training and more all at no cost to these union members. One example is the SEIU Family of Funds, which serves SEIU United Health Care Workers East. Of course, this would create financial challenges for the union as they grew their membership of health care workers; the cost of providing such benefits would simply become unsustainable. SEIU subsequently began fighting their health care providers (which in many cases were also the employers), demanding that they reduce health premiums so that they could pass on the savings in premiums to the members in the way of wage increases, as was done with Kaiser and SEIU Local 721. SEIU would soon be seeking additional means of paying for these health care and retirement benefits.
Regulating & Organizing Home Health Care and Child Care Workers
Once SEIU gained success in regulating and unionizing home health care workers, the union decided to recycle the same model in other sectors. For instance, SEIU quickly realized that they could also increase their membership through child care – first by organizing regulated family child care (FCC) providers, and then by organizing home-based child care providers. But first they had to force states to regulate home-based child care if they were to organize these members. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics , in 2006, child care workers held about 1.4 million jobs in 2006, and the number is projected to increase by 18 percent between 2006 and 2016. About 35% of all child care workers are self-employed, the overwhelming majority of them women who operate a home-based child care service in their own home or the homes of family, friends and neighbors (FFN providers), or even simply women who babysit their neighbors’ kids.
Many home-based care providers also receive payment from the state, in part through welfare program subsidies made to parents of children under their care. More state providers meant more guaranteed money and more opportunities to organize members. This prompted SEIU to begin bargaining with states, under the pretense that the state is considered an “employer of record” to those home-based care providers. And in states where there was no record or regulation of the FFN providers, SEIU lobbied for state regulation under the guise that there were “safety concerns” with neighbors caring for children in the community. Of course, once states regulated such activity, it then created what essentially equates to a prospect mailing list of fresh new blood that was now eligible for union solicitation. And together with the help of groups like ACORN and UFT and other teachers’ unions, SEIU began unionizing home child care providers.
And, not only would these child care providers represent potential new members for SEIU, but the success of requiring them to be regulated, and thus certified and credentialed by the state, created thousands more jobs for SEIU. Because who else do you think that SEIU pitched to be the authority in educating and certifying all of these new found members? Why, SEIU of course. The union not only lobbied lawmakers in state to force babysitters to become certified, and thus unionized, but they also lobbied to be the certification providers. The SEIU Kids First program now exists in at least 10 states where the union has been successful in requiring regulation of home child care. This amounts to not only new union members for SEIU, but also new demand for early education services and certification programs provided exclusively by SEIU, as well as millions of dollars in public state and federal funding to SEIU to deliver the services. And more importantly, it further entrenches SEIU into the system and into the educational influence over what kids are taught even in their earliest years. Even your babysitters now are given taxpayer dollars to help indoctrinate your children.
Following suit would then be partnering unions AFSCME, Communication Workers of America (CWA), United Auto Workers (UAW), and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), all of which officially adapted SEIU’s strategy and organizing model to unionize regulated family child care providers AND home-based child care providers and/or to require coverage of it in their health care benefits bargaining agreements.
Their latest wins include winning state contracts across the country, most of which now require that the state provide mandatory health care to each of those child care workers. (What a coincidence – those mandatory health care services for those SEIU child care workers are also performed by SEIU unions members!)
“By forming a union, we can win a contract with the state that guarantees the economic gains we’ve won can’t be taken away.” — SEIU, referring to the SEIU Kids First union
SEIU subsequently instituted a strategy to promote healthy well-being and child nutrition programs, both inside health care facilities and at home. Nationwide education then programs took hold, made their way into collective bargaining agreements, and were quickly rolled right into proposed health care reform legislation. Typical SEIU nutrition crisis campaigns today include “Getting Healthy Food Into School Cafeterias”, “Stop Obesity”, “Obesity – the epidemic of the century”, and of course the “Campaign for Quality Services”, in which the SEIU uses the phrase “Serving Justice, and Serving Lunch” to equate its cafeteria workers to “Superheroes”, crediting them with providing the nutritious meals that save the impoverished school-children of America. As you might imagine, there’s quite a demand out there now for jobs for registered dieticians and nutrition counselors who are covered under SEIU agreements.
Such strategies have since become yet another key component of the overall health care reform legislation, making way for SEIU to benefit not only from new health care jobs like nutritionists and dieticians, but to secure its membership of food service and other similar service workers that are part of their public services workers division that serves public school and state facility service workers.
And again, SEIU does so by creating crisis. Just view their “Crisis in Child Care” campaign.
Did you see the news story about the Michigan babysitting neighbor who was contacted by the state and told that she was breaking the law by babysitting her neighbors’ 3 children every day for 15 to 40 minutes before their school bus arrived? This is precisely the action that SEIU wants to be taken and why they lobbied for the law in the first place. If they can keep babysitting a regulated activity, it equals more union members and more union provided training services. This has nothing to do with safety and concern for kids, and everything to do with feeding the unions. (I’d be curious to know if any of babysitting mom Lisa Snyder’s neighbors belong to or work for SEIU, AFT, AFSCME or ACORN).
SEIU Builds an Empire on the Issue of Health Care Reform
By 2006, SEIU realized they’d need to align all the activities of their local organizations if they were to leverage their efforts on a national level to increase membership. And to increase membership, they’d need to create opportunities. So, how does an organization seeking to affect political outcomes that will determine its fate secure success? Identify a cause that creates jobs for your union; make it a national public issue, and then get out in front of it as the perceived champion of that cause.
And by 2007, SEIU recognized that the issue of Health Care could resurface as that national policy issue – if they championed the cause. In November of 2007, during a joint discussion on “high road” restructuring (i.e., advancing both competitiveness and the quality of jobs) in the health care industry in the presentation titled “Rx for a Successful SEIU Strategy for Health Care”, given by Chris Jennings of Jennings Policy Strategies, Inc. and a health policy veteran of the White House, SEIU leaders secured their national strategy to put the health care debate back on the political map.
Declaring the health care strategy as its number one priority, SEIU strategized that:
- Requiring health care coverage for all Americans will in turn create demand for SEIU-provided services
- Requiring health care coverage for all Americans will help with organizing and securing affordable care for its own members, and would also reduce pressure on compensation negotiations with SEIU
- Containing its own internal costs (through a universal health care plan) will help SEIU to “inoculate itself from being perceived solely as a spender”
- Associating itself with “politically-viable modernization initiatives that can achieve savings” will earn SEIU the credibility to oppose cost-shifting policies and to instead lead a campaign for complete reform
Also part of their strategy, SEIU would strictly steer the messaging in such a way to influence public opinion and create divisions that could work to their benefit:
- “Strong messaging about consequences of inaction needs to be developed and implemented
- Candidates must be put on defense about flawed policy; champions (SEIU) must not always be defending
- Messaging about why this is a sympathetic working Americans issue must effectively be delivered”
Additional presentations made by SEIU since 2007 to the present help illustrate just how aggressively they pursued making universal health care a political issue for the next election – and one that would stop at that election. SEIU’s strategy has admittedly been all along to get universal health care into the political debate before 2008 by
- Exaggerating estimates of the uninsured and incessantly highlighting the cost of health care, and getting it into everyday mainstream discussion
- Vilifying health insurance providers and manipulating profit figures to create a divide between consumers and providers
- Lobbying local and state government, as well as Congress for various health reforms
- Demonizing those who oppose a government option (but do support reform), portraying them as selfish proponents of the status-quo.
In addition, in its quest to create more jobs classified as health care workers, thus creating more union members, SEIU lobbied Congress members and health care facilities for other seemingly unrelated actions.
For instance, SEIU:
- Has commissioned and published numerous reports warning about the obesity epidemic in the US, lobbying state and federal government officials for programs to educate on nutrition and obesity and legislation to require insurance companies to cover obesity as a “chronic illness”. As government programs have increased, so has SEIU’s membership pool of Registered Dieticians and Nutrition Education Specialists, as well as “specially trained” school food service workers. What a coincidence.
- Has pushed the climate & clean energy agenda, not only for green jobs, but for their health care strategy, frequently citing that SEIU members are low-wage workers who “suffer disproportionately from the effects of pollution” on their health. As a result, an entirely new classification of “environmental justice” lawsuits has taken hold, with labor unions leading the way in advising their workers to sue corporations that locate their factories in low-income neighborhoods, staking claims on damage awards for their health care costs. Maybe this has a little something to do with the pushback on tort reform?
- Has forced the issue of long term care into the public debate and lobbied the government to implement long term care and end of life counseling policies into federal health care programs, including in the currently proposed health care bills in Congress. Funny, SEIU has spent a great deal of time, energy and money creating new segments of their health care division specifically for Long-Term Care workers.
- Even seized the H1N1 virus as an opportunity in their health care strategy, indicating in multiple presentations that if the government provides universal health care coverage, then their union members can be the ones to provide the services nationwide to respond to a pandemic.
SEIU Inside the White House, a Partnership in Empire Building
While SEIU has been developing their outside strategy of using health care as a platform for expanding their union membership, they’ve also been busy in the White House, ensuring their efforts are working the system from the inside.
When Andy Stern, Service Employees International Union president, told the Las Vegas Sun newspaper in May of 2009 that “we [the SEIU] spent a fortune to elect Barack Obama — $60.7 million to be exact — and we’re proud of it.,” many raised some eyebrows. Only months prior, Obama appointed several SEIU leaders in positions throughout his administration, and continues to today. In fact, it’s quite interesting when you look at each name and notice most have some relatively strong involvement in health care for SEIU:
- As mentioned previously, Change to Win Chair and SEIU Secretary Treasurer Anna Burger was appointed to the President’s to his Economic Recovery Board of Advisors. Burger has been one of the chief strategists alongside Andy Stern and Dennis Rivera on SEIU Health Care for years, and leads much of today’s public debate on health care reform, among other policy issues.
- Patrick Gaspard, former vice president of politics and legislation for Local 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, was appointed as the White House political director after serving as the national political director for Obama’s general election campaign. Gaspard also led lobbying efforts on behalf of SEIU on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in 2007. He’s also been very actively involved in the past with America Coming Together and Project Vote, but that’s another post entirely for another day…
- John Sullivan, SEIU associate counsel, was named to the Federal Election Commission, a panel consisting of only six members and tasked with reforming campaign finance and elections administration. Sullivan’s prior career has also included staunch support for Teamsters union bosses as their Election Officer Counsel, and legal counsel to SEIU and other labor unions on everything from election campaigning rules, strikes, and union benefits agreements, among many other interesting positions. This appointment seems ludicrous to those who follow campaign spending, as the FEC levied one of its largest fines in history of $775,000 against “America Coming Together”, an SEIU & ACORN joint 527s organization founded by George Soros and Andy Stern, while it was under Sullivan’s legal watch.
- Craig Becker, associate general counsel of SEIU, was nominated by Obama to the National Labor Relations Board in July. Becker was instrumental in developing SEIU’s legal strategies for organizing informal workers, primarily home health care workers and similar health care industry workers, even testifying on Capitol Hill as early as 2007 in support of unionizing such workers. There has also been separate concern over this appointment, relating to the Employee Free Choice Act and questions about the potential for Becker, whose public writings have stated that he believes “employers should be stripped of any legally cognizable interest in their employees’ election of union representatives”, to implement labor policies that would achieve the same outcome as the EFCA should that bill stall or fail in Congress.
- And of course, SEIU President Andy Stern and SEIU Healthcare Chair Dennis Rivera who, while not appointed to any specific positions in the administration, have earned themselves a place directly in Obama’s inner circle of strategy on Health Care. They’ve been included in numerous strategy meetings on the health care legislation, inside and outside the White House.
And now, SEIU has charged itself with “Building a New American Health Care System”.
As though the majority of America has recruited the SEIU to handle all of our health care needs. Last I checked, less than 10% of the entire US workforce is unionized…and only a small portion of that 10% represents SEIU.
So, why would a union like the SEIU, which represents such a tiny portion of the American population, position itself with such brevity and give itself so much self-appointed authority? Does their fight against Capitalism have anything to do with this, too? Think about this: for years this union has been fighting to get Americans’ health care out of the hands of employers and into the hands of the government instead. One pathway to help them get there is to ensure that as many non-union citizens as possible no longer have an employer.
I think most Americans agree that the health insurance industry can use some reform. I know. I have a chronic illness and I’ve been uninsured, and I’ve also been on government insurance. But changing some regulations and lifting others is one of the simplest ways to reforming it. So why won’t Democrats and the unions even consider such proposals? We have to ask ourselves some tough questions. Is the current health reform proposal what’s truly in the nation’s best interest? Or is SEIU simply trying to “take advantage of moments of change and crisis” as they said in their own presentation in November of 2007?
You tell me, is this a manufactured crisis?
If not, it’s quite a coincidence that each of these crises creates more laws, then more jobs, then more union members, then more taxes (not necessarily in that order).
Only an organization that has somehow secured its place at the nation’s top table would so brazenly build its own empire right under the noses of the rest of the American people. And SEIU has so very obviously been encouraged to do so. The next question is, what will each of us do to further educate ourselves and then do something about it?
Related SEIU presentations & documents, and SEIU jobs:
Download “Rx for Successful SEIU Strategy for Health Care” (.ppt)
SEIU Statement for the Record at Senate Finance Committee Round-table on Health Care Coverage (.pdf)
SEIU: Justice for All initiative
Labor Imperialism, Corporate Unionism & The SEIU Convention (video of hostile SEIU takeover in Puerto Rico that resulted in union workers protesting against Barack Obama, Andy Stern, Dennis Rivera and Anna Burger)