Thursday, September 18, 2008

Corporate Campaign in Upstate NY, too

Tom Quinn, President and CEO of Community General Hospital in Syracuse, NY, tells what it is like to watch an SEIU corporate campaign in action. Bravo to him for exposing this attempt at intimidation.

Tom's type of honesty is virtually the only way to splay out for the public this kind of nasty practice. Why? Because these stories are often not considered newsworthy enough by the media, or because they are presented in a manner that spouts unsupported assertions that are impossible to rebut.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

According to the article you linked to, the workers at the nursing home in question formed a union. They want to be heard by leaders who make the decisions at their employer. The woman who chairs that board won't meet with them. So they're asking another prominent leader who is connected to the situation--although not as directly as the board chair--to take a position.

It seems to me that this is less "intimidation" than freedom of speech.

Mr. Quinn argues that he has not direct power over the direction of the negotiations at the nursing home.

The presidents of colleges back in the '80s used to argue the same thing when kids protested and asked for universities to divest from South Africa: "we didn't decide to set up apartheid and we have a fiduciary responsibility to not let moral questions interfere with how we invest."

Similar arguments were made against the kids who sat in at lunch counters and segregated businesses in the Jim Crow South ("Woolworth doesn't make the laws in the South, we just do business according to local custom"), when coal miners fought against black lung and the right to form unions, when kids protested corporations that we making a profit from the Vietnam War, or when Cesar Chavez waged a "corporate campaign" by asking people to boycott grapes to support farm workers' freedom to form a union.

One more example: the SEIU and other unions are currently conducting what I presume you would call a "corporate campaign" against Wal-Mart, urging it to do better on a host of issues from the health care provided to employees to the treatment of the people who make their products in China. Do you think that organizations like SEIU should be banned from speaking out in this manner?

By labeling protest by the nursing home workers by workers a "corporate campaign," I'm afraid you risk expecting the workers at this nursing home and other workplaces to take what they're given without comment, which would ultimately lead to a hollowed out civic debate.

We're fortunate that in our country we've more or less established a political, cultural, and economic tradition of democracy and dissent. It's not always pleasant or without controversy, but I can't think of a better way.

Paul Levy said...

This comment is very effectively worded but creates a terribly misleading connection between issues surrounding this contract negotiation and issues of civil rights in South Africa and America, diminishing the true importance of the latter by equating them with a business dispute.

And then the hot-button question is posed, as to whether I think the SEIU should be banned from speaking out. In so doing, the commenter uses another clever rhetorical device, greatly overstating the points I have raised to the point of absurdity. Of course, I have never suggested that anyone should be banned from speaking out. What I have done here and elsewhere is to present the context and purpose of the manner in which they are speaking out.

Anonymous said...

Ironically, that's what I find irritating about you and Mr. Quinn's attempt to label this protest as a "corporate campaign:" it's a rhetorical device meant to dismiss the workers' attempt to be heard as unacceptable, regardless of the issues they are trying raise.

Because you and Mr. Quinn deem their protest to be a "corporate campaign" (and therefore an inherently "nasty practice") you imply that their arguments are therefore not acceptable and undeserving of a response. Their act of protest is itself improper, and you have no choice but to refuse to discuss the issues the employees raise about their work environment.

But I still can't figure out is what about the protest of these workers that makes what they're saying a "corporate campaign" unlike the sort of social protest that any number of worker, environmental, faith, organizations have engaged in over various issues going back, I suppose, to the protest of tea sold by the East India Company. After all, wasn't the United Farm Workers grape boycott at heart a "business dispute" too?

And it may not be so absurd to wonder about an attempt to silence these kinds of protests. It should be noted that in 1995, corporate lobbyists persuaded the Gingrich-led House of Representatives to consider legislation that would have outlawed the kind of dissent that you call a "corporate campaign." (The bill was not passed.)

nasov said...

The hubris is takes to compare any modern day union in the United States to civil rights workers and miners is staggering. I wish you would use your considerable energy where it is needed and quit trying to solve problems that are already fixed. You pick the easiest possible path. Any of the people you compare yourselves to would be ashamed.

I am pro-union and pro-labor. I have the voting record and the behavior record to back that up. I recognize greed when I see it -- in a union that will take workers' money and do absolutely nothing they could not do for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Do you have any idea how hard it is to work in a nursing home? It is -- literally, for many workers -- back breaking work. The pay is awful. Many workers can't afford the health insurance. It's not unheard of for nursing home workers to go work in fast food because the pay is better.

This is certainly not a problem that's "already fixed."

Nursing home workers who are in a union are a somewhat better off, but we still have a long way to go in this country in terms of treating these folks with the respect that their incredibly hard work and commitment to vulnerable people deserves.

Nursing home workers are not greedy people. They deserve a better life and the right to have a say about it.

Anonymous said...

To anon 3:19;

Pardon my ignorance, but if the workers formed a union and they are not getting to meet to negotiate a contract, then why don't they take the typical next step available to unions and strike? Attempting to intimidate, with direct threats, someone peripherally involved, doesn't seem to be fair play any more than the purported refusal to meet with them.

nonlocal MD

Paul Levy said...

Dear nonlocal,

I don't know the details, other than the newpaper report, but it appears that the union IS meeting with the designated bargaining agent of the nursing home; that it doesn't like what it is hearing; and so it is ratcheting up to want to meet with Board members. In this situation Board members not only have no obligation to meet with the union, but it is actually poor practice to do so in that it disrupts the negotiation process and can create misunderstandings. Board members don't manage, they govern. Then, here, too the union sought to pressure a separate organization, the hospital, to put pressure on the Board member to meet -- as documented in Tom's blog.

Anonymous said...

Paul;

Ah, I see; thanks for the clarification. I commented on Tom's blog that it would seem such a direct threat of extortion/blackmail(to generate negative publicity for his hospital should he not comply) should be reportable to some authority? I thought those days went out in the '30's.

nonlocal

Tom Quinn said...

Paul-

A bit more on this interesting discussion...

Captains-of-industry imagery and class-stereotypes are powerful tools for motivating and for bullying, and the SEIU is masterful at using these tools. Employing the signs and symbols of civil protest, however, does not automatically confer legitimacy on one’s point-of-view or actions.

The SEIU is an organization, like any other. It has no special status as somehow “more moral” or “more politically legitimate.” Because it alleges something does not make it true.

In the days since the SEIU picketed at my home, numerous SEIU members have told me they disapproved of the activity. Some have apologized. They have usually done so after briefly looking over a shoulder so as not to be overhead.

One local labor leader called me last weekend to express personal support and to take issue with the SEIU’s tactics. Significantly, this leader said he was not comfortable expressing such an opinion publicly.

-Tom Quinn

e-Patient Dave said...

I agree with anon 9:13's view that this group bears no resemblance to what the unions of the 1930s faced.

Anon 10:23, the issue of how hard it is to work in a nursing home is no justification for the absurd tactics SEIU uses, especially using those tactics at good employers. As I've said before, SEIU gives the whole labor movement a bad name. The distortions are so weird, I find myself wondering, can blackjacks be far behind?