Talking to Rank-and-File
WHY IS IT THAT WHEN the Service Employees International Union split from the AFL-CIO, they made the decision without consulting their rank-and-file?
A dear friend of mine who works a cargo elevator in Manhattan (Local 32BJ, SEIU), heard the news for the first time in the daily newspaper the morning after it happened. He called me on his first break because he knew I was probably working the story in one way or another. He asked me how the split would affect him or his job. And I told him it shouldn't. After he expressed his relief about the fact that it should not affect him, he asked me why the bolt took place at all. In other words, he was never informed of any decision that his union chose to split from the AFL-CIO, and he had no idea what it all meant. Try explaining this on the telephone in a fifteen minute break on the street of New York City, not easy.
Needless to say, I did the best that I could to present him with an unbiased and simple explanation, assuring him, again, that it will not affect him personally. I then told him that it bothered me that he was never informed, asked to vote, presented a discussion, nada, on the subject matter.
For the last few weeks I have read endless reports and endless slants on the "story." So many journalists are trying to make sense of the facts and explain it as simply as possible. What is interesting is that both the AFL-CIO and the dissenting unions seem to be having an equally difficult time explaining what is happening.
Finally, as so many nonunionized workers get up to do a job at about the same time the organizers and union staff get up to do a job -- is anyone equipped with the truth in a way that the truth can be understood? The amount of rhetoric and posturing published lately is laughable, at best. When both sides want a unified and stronger labor movement (which is desperately needed), neither side seems capable of communicating this to their due-paying members. They seem paralyzed, pitiful and absurd when they are unable to clearly communicate to the press, on their websites and, sadly, to their cargo elevator operators.
At a time when we desperately need to have a clear and unified voice, labor seems to be stuttering.
Thank you for letting me vent. I am not writing with the intention of publishing this note, but if you would like to write a story about this, I would really love reading one.