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2009-02-20

Union Leaders Accuse Stern of Scheming for Control of America’s Only Union-Owned Commercial Bank

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Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now! co-host and a columnist for the New York Daily News.

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In his latest column for the New York Daily News, Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez writes, "Last year alone, Amalgamated Bank’s profits provided more than $23 million to UNITE HERE for its everyday operations. Some leaders of the union accuse one of the country’s most powerful labor leaders, Andy Stern, of the Service Employees International Union, of scheming to seize control of the bank in a corporate-style takeover." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: You wrote an interesting piece, before we move on with our new segment, on a big battle brewing within unions.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, another battle has now erupted in the so-called reform wing of the American labor movement. Now, the UNITE HERE, which is the large union that represents hotel workers, garment workers, textile workers — it was actually a merger of two unions that occurred about five years ago. And UNITE HERE now has a major battle that has implications beyond its union, because the SEIU has also become involved, Andy Stern, Service Employees International Union, the largest — the fastest-growing union in America.

Apparently, the original merger of UNITE HERE had Bruce Raynor, the former head of UNITE, as the president of the merged union and John Wilhelm, who was the head of the hotel workers, as the second in command of the new merged union.

But there’s been a lot of battles internally between the two camps since they’ve been merged, and the big battle is over the bank that the union has, the only union-owned bank in America, commercial break, the Amalgamated Bank, which has about $5 billion in assets. I call it one of the crown jewels of the American labor movement. And that bank produces — for instance, last year, it produced $23 million in profits that all went to help fund the union’s activities.

But now, as the battle has erupted, John Wilhelm looks likely to be elected the new president of UNITE HERE, and the Raynor forces are battling against that. They want a divorce. They say that the marriage has not worked; after five years, they want a divorce. And they want to move their entire operation into, apparently, SEIU. And the problem is that the union constitution that everyone approved does not allow a secession. And so, now there is basically a scorched earth battle between the two sides, with Wilhelm trying to keep UNITE HERE together and Raynor, in essence, it appears to be, working cooperatively with Andy Stern to tear his own union apart and take his section over to SEIU.

Of course, I’ve called — in my column today, I called SEIU the Roman Empire of the American labor movement. They keep expanding and absorbing new additions into their growing empire. And I talked with Stern about that yesterday. He acknowledged that he is working very hard to convince UNITE HERE that they would be better off as members of SEIU, and he’s got lawyers and a whole bunch of people working to make that possible. But the rest of the labor movement, I think, considers that interference in the internal affairs of a fraternal organization.

And so, I don’t know what’s going to happen now, but I do think that this is a bad sign now that SEIU, which was leading the reform movement when they split off from the AFL-CIO to establish Change to Win, is now embroiled in yet another battle, which looks very much like the old battles in the labor movement for pure control by union leaders over resources, money and members. So we’ll see how it works out over the next few months.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll certainly continue to follow that story.

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