Power and Politics
To maintain its membership growth, SEIU uses its members’ money to build political power. It uses that power to bully legislators and coerce business leaders, and to make quid pro quo agreements with politicians that cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Knowing that its reputation is bruised, SEIU has resorted to hiding its political power plays..
SEIU officials operate very close to crossing legal and ethical boundaries. In 2007, the Federal Election Commission levied a whopping $775,000 fine against a political group called Americans Coming Together for illegally supporting presidential candidates. SEIU had shoveled tens of millions of its members’ money in to the organization.
SEIU expects a lot for their money. A university scholar outlined the quid pro quo arrangement that kicked off SEIU’s nationwide political power play for more members:
Local 880’s political action committee, with major support from the International Union and the SEIU state council, worked hard to elect Rod Blagojevich as the first Democratic governor in Illinois in over twenty years. In return, Blagojevich agreed to support recognition and collective bargaining rights for both homecare and family child-care providers if he were elected governor. In February 2003, he signed Executive Order 2003-8 granting collective bargaining rights to over twenty thousand personal assistants (homecare workers) from Local 880’s …
Upon winning re-election, Illinois’ governor signed the second such order. Since then, SEIU has lobbied friendly governors to gain the right to represent hundreds of thousands more home and child care contractors. One example came in July 2007, Cleveland’s Plain Dealer newspaper reported:
With a wave of his pen this week, Gov. Ted Strickland handed the increasingly powerful Service Employees International Union a golden opportunity — the chance to increase its Ohio membership by about 25 percent.
The SEIU, which doled out $134,800 to the Democratic governor during his successful campaign in 2006, will now have the chance to organize about 7,000 home health care workers working as independent contractors for state government.
When politicians don’t toe the union line, SEIU relies on retribution. In June 2006, the Sacramento Bee reported that SEIU spent $20,000 against a councilman “even though his only opponent in the race … pulled out of active campaigning.”
How SEIU gets its money to politicians is troubling. The Politico reported on one particularly obscene exchange between a top SEIU official and leading Democratic fundraiser David Jones:
On the crowded dance floor, Dennis Rivera, the president of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, made his way up to Jones and handed him a slim, white envelope. He bent over Jones’ ear.
“This is from the union,” Rivera said.
Inside the envelope were three checks, one for $500,000 and two for $250,000 each.
This was legal back then because it was soft money. Today, soft money is banned.
That’s one million dollars (of member money) in cold, hard cash.
Given its disturbing record, SEIU attempts to shield the public from knowledge of the union’s role in politics. In May 2006, the San Mateo County Times reported that SEIU tried to hide its political involvement, but was forced to confess later:
Oakland-based SEIU United Healthcare Workers West has disclosed that it contributed money – some amount less than $50,000 – to San Carlos Residents for Healthy Open Debate, which has spoken out in opposition to the project on primarily environmental grounds. In April, union spokeswoman Thea Lavin told the Times that the union had nothing to do with Healthy Open Debate.