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Very few can live connected lives and never fail those who depend upon them. But betrayal is different from failure. It involves intentionally wounding those who have trusted you. Betrayal by a member of our own family is even worse.
Today we see the terrible betrayal of hundreds of thousands of Californians by Andy Stern, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who calls his members "brothers" and "sisters" while violating their trust.
Stern has enabled his allies to steal from our communities, and he is preparing to do it again.
Many of us read The Los Angeles Times' report that Annelle Grajeda, president of a Los Angeles SEIU local, had to step down amid allegations that she gave union money to a former boyfriend.
The national media has reported that Stern and his associate Tom Balanoff met with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich about a pay-to-play deal to choose Barack Obama's Senate replacement.
What is less widely known is that Grajada and Balanoff-each entrusted with millions of dollars of SEIU members' money-were appointed to their positions by Stern instead of elected by the workers they are supposed to represent.
When a local union is merged, the national union can appoint a new president for three years without an election. Stern has used this loophole in federal labor law to disenfranchise workers, remove their elected leaders, and put his buddies in charge. Stern's appointees have failed to represent local union members because they are not accountable to local people. Instead they have a constituency of one: Andy Stern.
Not all SEIU local unions are run by appointees. Members of SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) elect their leaders, and take pride in its democratic ways. UHW is the oldest healthcare workers union in the country, made up of 150,000 caregivers in California. Now UHW has its head on the chopping block for opposing Stern's undemocratic practices and opposing his collusion with politicians and employers against the best interests of workers.
This month Stern moved to betray UHW members by removing their elected leaders and merging them with Local 6434 and another California local. He wants to silence their opposition and turn California into a new fiefdom for another appointee. We must not allow this to happen.
Unions are a vital check on corporate power. Through unions, workers have a voice to lift wages, and win benefits and greater security for their families. And for workers to have democracy in the workplace, they need democratic unions-not union dictators.
As clergy, we are appalled by Stern's immoral leadership and his betrayal of brothers and sisters. We fervently hope that Stern will stop these undemocratic actions and put the needs of workers first-before it's too late. And we hope and pray that incoming U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and the Obama administration will place a new emphasis on protecting worker rights.
Some may say, "this is not my fight." But these are the people who care for our sick and aged, who staff our hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes. They are our advocates at the bedside in our times of greatest need, and in UHW they have been advocates for better jobs and better healthcare in our communities. We should all be their advocates too.