Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz
Indybay Regions North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area California United States International Americas Haiti Iraq Palestine Afghanistan
From the Open-Publishing Calendar
From the Open-Publishing Newswire
Indybay Feature
A Message from UNITE HERE to Student Allies
by jbp
Friday Apr 10th, 2009 10:37 AM
We are recent student activists now working at UNITE HERE, a union organizing and building power with food service, hotel, laundry and gaming workers across North America. We write to you today because we are in a struggle over the kind of labor movement we are trying to build. At this critical moment in history, SEIU’s President, Andy Stern, is making a top-down attempt to take over our union. We understand that groups connected with this takeover attempt have begun to spread misinformation in the university community. We wanted to write you now to share our perspective.
April 10, 2009

Dear student allies,

We are recent student activists now working at UNITE HERE, a union organizing and building power with food service, hotel, laundry and gaming workers across North America. It is a critical time for our movement – we know that workers will bear the brunt of the economic crisis unless we stand up, organize and fight. We also know that students play an important role in the labor movement, and that we are stronger when we work together.

We write to you today, though, because we are in a struggle over the kind of labor movement we are trying to build. At this critical moment in history, SEIU’s President, Andy Stern, is making a top-down attempt to take over our union. We understand that groups connected with this takeover attempt have begun to spread misinformation in the university community. We wanted to write you now to share our perspective.

We firmly believe in building a movement from the bottom up. We believe our job is to bring workers together to fight for themselves, and that the role of the union is to build our members’ – and our own – capacity to realize hopes and dreams for the future. We believe the union should be run democratically by its members, not by a small group of bureaucrats. We believe UNITE HERE is committed to these same goals.

While UNITE HERE’s members are taking the difficult step of standing up for themselves at work, our student allies are standing up in solidarity with them. On many campuses, students are playing a leading role in a campaign to build worker power in the hotel industry. Meanwhile, our union is continuing to work with students to build a voice in decisions about the contracting of campus food services. In all these efforts, we believe in transparency and working honestly in cooperation with our student allies.

Stern and SEIU are jeopardizing the movement we are building together by interfering in UNITE HERE’s democratic processes. The merger of UNITE and HERE in 2004 successfully brought together workers but also brought together different opinions about the direction of the labor movement and the importance of building worker leadership. Instead of permitting our members to collectively resolve the issues democratically at our union’s convention this summer, Stern has recruited a group of leaders, including UNITE HERE Co-President Bruce Raynor, who would rather dismantle UNITE HERE than face the prospect of losing power.

As part of the takeover campaign, Stern is sending SEIU staff into UNITE HERE workplaces to spread anti-union propaganda. His followers have sent misleading SEIU-purple mailers to UNITE HERE members. Stern himself helped found the so-called “Workers United,” a front group designed to break up our union. SEIU has even sent staff to disrupt our efforts to organize a hotel in Phoenix where we have spent months building relationships with workers. Sadly, such raiding tactics are becoming a trend for Stern. And now, we hear they are spreading misinformation on campus.

The same destructive opportunism evident in SEIU’s takeover attempt has been present in their recent student campaigns as well. Last year, students sent an open letter to Andy Stern detailing their concern about how SEIU had treated student allies in campaigns at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, Stanford, Santa Clara University and University of California - Irvine. The letter touched off a nerve and was highlighted in Inside Higher Education, while the UNC incident had already received attention in The Nation. The dissatisfaction goes beyond the examples included in the letter. In Philadelphia in 2006, after Andy Stern cut a deal with the security industry, SEIU suddenly pulled out of a campaign on which students and workers from University of Pennsylvania and Temple had played important roles.

Make no mistake: SEIU has done great work building power for workers in some places, and all SEIU members deserve our support and solidarity. Many SEIU members and staff, as well as other unions, are as disgusted and disheartened by Andy Stern’s recent choices as we are. This attack on UNITE HERE comes at the very moment when the labor movement, student movements and all progressives should be united in the effort of turning our country in a new direction.

UNITE HERE is not perfect. We don’t pretend that it is. But our union – the one we believe in – is about people and their lives – not suits, board rooms, handshakes and assets. We joined UNITE HERE because of our desire to build a vibrant force for change with working people. We fight because we believe that our union can build the power of working people to stand up to their bosses and elected leaders, and in doing so build a better society for us all.

Usually our struggle is directed at corporations disrespecting workers, and we remain committed to working with you to build a stronger student-labor alliance on that front. But right now, we are fighting on another front as well. However unfortunate, this struggle is no less important for the future of our movement. We are not in this fight because we are loyal to a particular union leader. We are in it because of our vision for a bottom-up labor movement, which stands in stark contrast to the corporate-style takeover campaign Stern is running against our members.

For student allies who are leading struggles on their campuses, we thank you again for your solidarity and look forward to winning our mutual campaigns. Meanwhile, we hope you all remain aware that SEIU and their Workers United front may bring their intrusive and ill-advised fight against UNITE HERE to your campus. They may send misleading mailers, recruit you for internships that would mean fighting against us, or even try to organize members to leave our union. If they do, we ask that you please stand with us in our struggle.

In solidarity,

Allison Aguilar, Goucher College ‘08
Reyna Alfaro, University of Massachusetts-Amherst ‘08
Philip Arnone, University of Mary Washington ‘08
Jessica Austin, University of California-Berkeley ‘06
Mike Biskar, Georgetown University ‘06
Lauren Burke, Yale University ‘05
Liana Dalton, University of Wisconsin-Madison ‘06
Powell DeGange, University of California-Davis ‘07
Noah Dobin-Bernstein, Yale University ‘07
Matthew Edwards, University of California Santa Cruz ‘06
Judy Esber, UC Santa Cruz ‘08
Anne Fox, Wesleyan University ‘07
Mark Franciose, Purdue University ‘06
Nureen Ghuznavi, Brown University ‘08
Mike Hachey, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill ‘07
Nischit S. Hegde, Cornell University-ILR ‘06
Elizabeth Keegan, UCLA ‘08
Jessica Lawlor, Scripps College '06
Mishy Leiblum, University of Massachusetts -Amherst ‘08
Marissa Levendis, Yale University ‘07
Nat Lippert, Haverford College ‘06
Elliott Mallen, University of Michigan ‘07
Ben Mantle, Cornell University ‘04
Jillian Marks, University of California-Berkeley ‘08
Riddhi Mehta, University of California-Irvine ‘07
Ian Mikusko, Kalamazoo College ‘05
Kate Moulding, Brown University ‘05
Alicia Ortiz, State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz ‘06
Evan Paster, Brandeis University ‘04
Jobert Poblete, University of California-Berkeley '07
Caitlin Prendiville, New School University ‘07
Sarah Roberts, Swarthmore ‘08
Carrie Sallgren, University of Massachusetts -Amherst ‘05
Kyle Schafer, Northwestern University ‘07
Margaret Sharp, Yale University ‘08
Rachel Torres, University of California-Santa Barbara ‘05
Jessica Turner, Vassar College ‘07
Maria Dolores Vivanco, University of San Francisco ‘06

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Clayton Perry (ClaytonPer [at]
Friday Apr 10th, 2009 5:13 PM
Thanks so much for posting. I really appreciate someone breaking the silence about this awful and destructive maneuver. Thanks a whole lot and please keep up the good work.


Clayton Perry
by amelia frank-vitale
Monday Apr 13th, 2009 5:31 PM
i'm a yale grad just like many of the people signed on to this letter. i was a student labor activist too, and i believed in the vision of HERE and then UNITEHERE. i was an organizer with them for almost two years. now i'm on the ground with WORKERS UNITED here in phoenix. here, this fight is not about SEIU or andy stern. for the members in phoenix its about building a union that is responsible to them. unite-here did not build any kind of bottom-up organization here - it's organizing was dictatorial at best and cult-like at worst. workers were forced to share deeply personal information, suffer organizers inserting themselves into the most intimate aspects of their personal lives, and shut out of the decision-making process. the workers here are making the move from unitehere to workers united. it's the most grassroots movement i've seen since i graduated.

by Jesse Lenney
Tuesday Apr 14th, 2009 1:06 PM
There is no attempt to take over UNITE-HERE. Any local that wanted to stay with UNITE HERE is still with UNITE HERE. What has happened is that many Locals of UNITE HERE have decided to leave UNITE HERE to form a new union called Workers United. Workers United has decided to affiliate with SEIU. We were not pressured by SEIU to do that. We are in fact very happy to be a partner with an organization that is not attempting to take us over, but is willing to support the work that we hope to continue. It was made clear that if we stayed with UNITE HERE we would not be allowed to be the kind of union we could believe in. You notice in this message there was no mention of Clothing workers, Textile workers, Manufacturing workers, Distribution workers, and Retail workers. Workers in all these industries were previously part of UNITE HERE and they were just not important to the leadership now taking over that union and maybe not important to the authors of this message since they neglected to even mention the more than 100,000 members in those industries.
This message speaks of democracy, but what they showed us was just tyranny by majority. Since they represented more members than we had with us they voted in all the decisions regardless of how they affected the workers in the minority. This country has a long and sad history of majorities using “democracy” as a veil for suppression of the voices of the people in the minority. We were sure that their plan to “collectively resolve” our differences was to crush dissenting opinion at their convention this summer and remove from office anyone that was not completely obedient to their agenda. Our members were not going to accept that, so we all left UNITE HERE.
SEIU members and staff have helped in this process only were they were invited and mostly were we were under attack from UNITE HERE staff. Where I’m from, upstate New York, our members have signed petitions, conducted votes, on their own and there hasn’t been a need for help from SEIU. That said, we will gladly ask for it if the need arises and we look forward to working with SEIU even more in the future to help workers in upstate New York.
It is sad that these UNITE HERE staff members feel the need to recruit student activists in this internal union matter. This matter had already been resolved by the members who choose to leave UNITE HERE. We have no interest in taking over UNITE HERE. If UNITE HERE can face reality and move on with the work of the union we would wish them well.
by UNITE HERE activist
Wednesday Apr 15th, 2009 1:26 AM
Jesse Lenney's opinion is to be taken with a grain of salt. Some quick internet research shows that he is a UNITE side staffer of the Rochester Regional Joint Board. Furthermore, he is a former staffer of SEIU 1199.
by Stern's Got To Go
Friday Apr 17th, 2009 1:22 PM
These SEIU operatives who are part of Stern's gang the SEIU are working overnight to disrupt and help the bosses around the country. Stern is opposed to elections of union representatives and even the international officers. He runs a corrupt non-transparent operation in which many of his political appointments in California like Tyrone Freeman have stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars of union dues from members who make $9 an hour.
In the bay area SEIU Stern operatives are telling Unite Here workers at the Oakland ball park to leave their local and join this SEIU financed top down union called workers united.
This is the same operation that spent millions of dollars raiding the Puerto Rican teachers union FMPR and setting up a pro-privatization company union to replace the worker controlled union.
Labor councils through out the west coast are not passing resolutions unanimously condemning these union busting tactics by Stern and his appointed hacks.
Stern is even trying to bust his own international staff using Wal-Mart tactics. He and his crew in fact love Wal-Mart and want to join with them and the insurance companies to "reform" our healthcare system. Probably the plan is to force Wal-Mart to send their workers to operations run by the SEIU so they can make more money and increase their dues collections.
Here is one that was recently passed unanimously by the Monterey Labor Council.
Monterey Bay Central Labor Council Resolution calling for
an end to International SEIU interference
with UNITE HERE Local 483

WHEREAS, the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council has a proud history of solidarity amongst our local unions despite times of conflict between international unions; and

WHEREAS, the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council holds our sisters and brothers of our Local SEIU affiliates in the highest esteem and with the highest respect and appreciation for their long and continuing history of solidarity and in leading the movement for democratic unionism; and

WHEREAS, UNITE HERE Local 483 holds the highest regard for our local SEIU affiliates’ history of support for hospitality workers and continues to hold the greatest appreciation for their trusted friendship; and

WHEREAS, neither the Monterey Bay Central labor Council nor its individual affiliate UNITE HERE Local 483 holds MBCLC SEIU affiliates and their members responsible for actions taken by International SEIU officials and leadership; and

WHEREAS, UNITE HERE Local 483 members have received phone calls and mailers, as recently as this week, directing them to quit UNITE HERE Local 483 and join a “new union” which is an affiliate of International SEIU;[1] and

WHEREAS, Andy Stern and International SEIU officials have denied involvement in such mailings and phone calls but have failed to denounce or renounce them;[2] and

WHEREAS, Andy Stern and International SEIU officials have admitted that paid SEIU organizers have visited UNITE HERE shops in other parts of North America and did take part in the administration of UNITE HERE secession votes in March 2009;[3] and

WHEREAS, in March 2009, International SEIU claimed organizing jurisdiction over hotels and food service;[4] and

WHEREAS, hotels and food service have been under the organizing jurisdiction of UNITE HERE Local 483 and its forerunners in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties for more than 70 years; and

WHEREAS, the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council seeks to promote solidarity amongst affiliates and respect for jurisdictional boundaries of its affiliates; and

WHEREAS, the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council seeks to prevent the actions of Andy Stern and International SEIU from disrupting relationships in and between our local affiliates;

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council—

(1) CONDEMNS the actions of Andy Stern and International SEIU officials in interfering in the lives of UNITE HERE members and their relationship with their union;

(2) CONDEMNS the actions of Andy Stern and International SEIU officials in failing to denounce the phone calls and mailings to UNITE HERE members, including Local 483 members;

(3) CONDEMNS the actions of Andy Stern and International SEIU officials in claiming organizing jurisdiction over hotels and food service, which is UNITE HERE Local 483 territory in our region; and

(4) CALLS ON Andy Stern and International SEIU to demand an end to phone calls and the mailings to UNITE HERE Local 483, especially those directing Local 483 members to quit their union and join an SEIU affiliated union; and

(5) CALLS ON Andy Stern and International SEIU to rescind its claim to organizing jurisdiction in hotels and food service in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

[1] The mailers have a purple background and say, “Join us! … A Brighter Future with a New Union … We have to move fast … Let’s stick together by disaffiliating from UNITE HERE and joining a union that respects all of its members.” They also claim “Members’ dues have gone up four years in a row …” That is untrue, as Local 483 members received no dues increase in 2007 nor this year.
[2] According to Stern's spokeswoman, Michelle Ringuette, SEIU was “not funding” and “not behind” the mailers and media campaign in Ben Smith, “An SEIU invasion?”, March 9, 2009 (
[3] Confirmed by Stern's spokeswoman, Michelle Ringuette in Ben Smith, “An SEIU invasion?”, March 9, 2009 (
[4] “Summary of Affiliation Agreement between Service Employees International Union and Workers United,” March 23, 2009. The list of expanded organizing jurisdictions includes “hotels, airports, multi-service, gaming, retail, food service, [and] call centers”.

by mac
Thursday Apr 23rd, 2009 11:18 AM
Jesse: you say there is no attempt to take over Unite Here. Even cutting through the propaganda and hyperbole, it's obvious that there's some sort of funny business going on in Unite Here hotels and that Workers United and/or Seiu is probably behind it. (And what about all those purple - Seiu's color - anti-union leaflets?) Given Andy Stern's history of attacking and raiding other unions, it's hard to take your comment seriously.
We are 100% volunteer and depend on your participation to sustain our efforts!


donate now

$ 240.00 donated
in the past month

Get Involved

If you'd like to help with maintaining or developing the website, contact us.


Publish your stories and upcoming events on Indybay.

IMC Network