.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Amy Thigpen: United Healthcare Workers Holding Our Ground

{Amy Thigpen and members of UHW are sleeping in their union halls across California tonight due the threat of imminent seizure of those buildings by SEIU International, which instituted a takeover of UHW West today. I welcome her guest post on this blog.}

Last night I slept on the kind of carpet you don't really want to examine too closely. It's splotched with decades of coffee stains and salsa and too many conversations still seem to hang in the stale air, but there I was, curled up on my air mattresses in the union hall in downtown Oakland, the home of United Healthcare Workers West, my union. On my right my sister the Medical Assistant slept peacefully, on my left my sister the Call Center Representative, across my sister the Ultrasound Technician, and my sister the Optical Technician. All of them healthcare workers, member leaders and officers in our union. I realized that I loved this stale, stained room, with carpets held together by duct tape, I love the room because it holds the waking dreams of my sister and brothers in UHW-W. The place may be held together by duct tape but we as a union are held together by something stronger.
Whenever my union brothers or sisters ask me to do something, anything -- lead a chant, bargain over working conditions, join them on the picket line -- I say yes. Why? Because everything I've been part of as a steward and Medical Social Worker with UHW for the last two years has been about furthering a cause that is just and right and about empowering workers. And not just any workers, workers who provide in-home care for elders: bathing them, cleaning their homes, feeding them, people who do the work that matters most, even though it's often valued least.

Karen Bee, Licensed Vocational Nurse

Convalescent workers and homecare workers get paid far less than their colleagues in the hospitals. But as members of UHW, Hospital workers and Long Term Care workers are joined together in one statewide healthcare union. We've raised standards for all, including some of the best wages and benefit packages under the Mariner contracts settled late last year. And when I say we've raised the standards, I mean we. We bargain our own contracts, we elect our leaders from stewards to our executive board of rank and file members. So why are we sleeping in the union hall?

Ruby Guzman, Certified Nurse Assistant

Despite all of the member-led success of UHW, our International Union -- SEIU -- placed us in trusteeship today. It's a long story, and a very well publicized one, but it's really not a new story. It's an old one, about leaders, in this case, Andy Stern, president of the International Union, forgetting who they represent. It's a story about a few people, our International Executive Board, who care more about concentrating power than the reality of the workers they are supposed to represent.

So we're sleeping in the UHW hall and we're unified in our worksites, only unfortunately instead of concentrating our efforts on fighting for better wages or working conditions or patient care, we have to fight our own International Union. At a time when our country has pulled together in an historic way, putting the needs of the collective above the few and the privileged, it's a terrible irony that Andy Stern would choose to attack and destroy, instead of building on this momentum. Luckily, though Stern and his trustees may have forgotten about workers, people like my sisters and brothers have not, and we will not.

Amy Thigpen, Medical Social Worker

Tonight I'm going to sleep on the stained carpet again surrounded by my sisters and brothers. If Stern and his trustees disturb us, try to bust into the Hall, cut off the power, the water, we'll resist. We'll hold this duct taped hall as long as we can, and if we have to yield our hall, we'll take our fight to the facilities, to the courts. We will hold our union and build our union. How am I so sure? Because I believe in the power of each of us bound to the next by common values and a common goal: to improve the lives of healthcare workers and patients, a goal we're all ready to lose sleep over, to fight for and to win.

-Amy Thigpen

(For more on this struggle read: www.seiuvoice.org.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

SEIU "Caught"

url link to video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sk06bbiDygw

Visit this link to sign a petition on behalf of UHW: http://www.seiuvoicestopthecuts.org