Memo Outlines Campaign Against SEIU's Stern
June 1, 2009
Two memos from labor movement enemies of SEIU President Andrew Stern offer unusual insight into a concerted, ad hominem campaign against one of the country's highest-profile labor leaders.
The campaign seeks to "plant" stories in the press on the theme that "Stern is behind it all" and to "engender SEIU internal dissent," according to one memo.
The two internal memos were drafted by aides to hotel and casino workers' leader John Wilhelm, who heads UNITE HERE. The garment workers' side of that union has sought to secede and, as "Workers United," affliliate with Stern's SEIU, prompting a bitter turf battle between Stern, Wilhelm, and their respective allies.
They're a mark of the bitterness of this labor civil war, and and the vast resources being expended on it: One memo says that 20 UNITE HERE researchers are spending most of their time targeting SEIU, while another lays out a set of targets for organizers and other union staffers.
"John Wilhelm is making a lot of false allegations rather than address the real matter at hand: what is in the best interests of the working women and men who built and count on these unions," said a spokeswoman for Stern, Michelle Ringuette. "SEIU is very concerned that Wilhelm’s repeated refusal to submit to binding arbitration is resulting in workers’ contracts being left open and negotiations being disrupted."
The fight isn't one-sided: Stern's allies in the garment workers' faction also mailed a series of ad hominem attacks on local hotel workers' leaders, and the sides are skirmishing over the control locals. A spokeswoman for the hotel and casino workers' side, Pilar Weiss, said her side was only responding in kind.
"These are defensive memos," she said in an email. "If one is being raided and smeared by SEIU, you react to their actions."
Wilhelm also released a memo claiming Stern or his allies had hired a private investigator to track him; a Stern spokeswoman, Michelle Ringuette, denied Stern or his allies had hired the private eye, and said Stern and others had been out of town on the date of an alleged meeting.
The two internal UNITE HERE memos (which can be read here), dated late March, were sent by fax to a Wilhelm ally, Chris Magoulas. The first was sent by another union staffer, Paul Schwalb, while the second's cover sheet says it was drafted by a third staffer, Jim Baker.
The first memo lists actions today, and says UNITE HERE operative have "Planted several 'Stern is behind it all' stories in the press" and "encourage[d] (and started to systematically track) one-on-one communications with SEIU leaders and staff."
The memo also clearly lay's out the union's strategy: A personal assault on Stern, the high-profile SEIU chief.
Under the heading "Stern focus" the memo plans a campaign "Debunking the myth of Stern" and to "lay EFCA's fate at Andy's feet," referring to the Employee Free Choice Act, which has stalled in Congress.
(The strategy comes despite an earlier clash between Stern and Wilhelm over whether the bill should be a priority, as Stern thought, or a lesser focus, as Wilhelm argued.)
Among the memo's "key questions": "How do we best engender SEIU internal dissent?"
A second memo describes six SEIU organizing and political campaigns, from childcare workers in Massachusetts to state workers in Arizona, in which SEIU is seeking government action to help it organize groups of workers; the memo discusses options for disrupting the campaign.
A source also provided a copy of a letter from Wilhelm to employers, instructing them not to recognize the rival garment workers' union.