Monday, July 13, 2009

AFT Hack Attack on Portland Local 5017

Some of you may not be paying attention to this "small" story in Portland, Or. But the role being played by the AFT against a local daring to discuss leaving the AFT is indicative of the kinds of desperate attempts to keep people in line. Let's say an entire chapter at a school decided to withdraw from COPE. Will the UFT come in and depose the elected union officials? Don't be surprised.

Let's say you're a relatively small laid back union office in just as laid back Portland, Oregon and one day 20 guys in suits – and no one wears suits in Portland – barge in and take over your office, seizing all records and computers. They say they are from the national AFT (sent by Queen Randi) and are deposing the elected representatives of the Local. Having dealt with Unity Caucus goons for 40 years, what would I do? Call the cops and charge them with breaking and entry. But this is laid back Portland and people are polite.

Here's a follow-up on the Ed Notes report on the AFT takeover of Local 5017 in Portland, Oregon (Randi Goes to Portland As AFT Threatens Local Considering Disaffiliation).

There's a new blog for Local 5017: Take Back Local 5017
This blog is about union democracy. On July 7, 2009 Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, Local 5017, a small healthcare local in Portland, Oregon was taken over by its parent union and put under trusteeship. We want Local 5017 back!

The first I knew something was up in Portland was when Randi facetiously asked me if I wanted to go with her to Oregon at her farewell speech to the UFT Ex Bd meeting, the one where Mike Mulgrew was crowned. Randi is due in Portland next week to try to put out the fire.

The Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, Local 5017, has 3500 members, health care workers like lab techs and nurses. They have been in the AFT for 30 years, during which time their concerns have been mostly ignored by the AFT hierarchy. The more active members felt the AFT looked at them as a cash cow, sucking up their dues. One of them even showed up at an AFT convention dressed as a cow covered with cash.

The last straw came when the AFT pulled funding for an important lobbying campaign for a bill that would not allow hospitals to cut staff under a certain level, a lobbying campaign that received little support from the AFT all along. The Local had put much time and effort into the campaign and wasn't even informed by the Oregon AFT lobbyist that the bill had been dropped.

They had been watching from next door the effectiveness of the California Nurses Association led by Rose Ann DeMoro, a left progressive unionist and a dirty word to some union leaders, who is a VP on the AFL/CIO Exec Bd where she gets to rub elbows with Randi. (Hopefully, Randi's collaborationist agenda will not rub off on Rose Ann.) Dreams of actually having a union that would fight for them began to drift through Local 5017's Exec Bd and a decision was made in late May to explore their options, including disaffiliation from the AFT.

Some moles on the 5017 Exec Bd spilled the beans to AFT central and Randi sent a letter to the leaders, along the lines of "please come back, but if you don't, you're dead." Local 5017 elected leaders, upon legal advice, refused to talk to her. Off came the glove. One of the major charges? Their Constitution says they don't hold meetings in July and they called a general membership meeting to discuss - not vote - on the concept of whether disaffiliating from the AFT made sense and what were their other options. Wow! Another was misappropriation of union dues, a more serious charge – until you get the actual details. Like money spent to hold a meeting to discuss the issue of disaffiation. In the UFT, you see, discussing issues openly is considered subversive.

The AFT is like COPE in the UFT, or a black hole – once you get in, there is no getting back out. Ever.

It would be like ICE contacting the AFT and charging the UFT with a total lack of democracy, with manipulating school elections to assure Unity Caucus control wherever possible, for using member dues for personal political agendas, for running a massive patronage machine, etc. And having Randi Weingarten send in a team of AFT goons to take over the UFT and depose the union leadership – led by Randi Weingarten or her hand-picked successor Michael Mulgrew.

Never mind.

Now, we've been down this road before with the FMPR in Puerto Rico, whose 40,000 member actually did disaffiliate five years ago and was dragged into court (unsuccessfully by the AFT) for years. Ed Notes followed the story and used a bunch of stuff from Mike Antonucci at the Educational Intelligence Agency. Stories like this that make teachers unions look like goons make Antonucci salivate and he did a good job of covering the PR story over a period of time. (I collated the EIA stuff in chronological order. It is posted at Norm's Notes here. In addition, I posted more info - search using "FMPR" to find them all.)

Antonucci blogged about it today at EIA.

AFT Running the Puerto Rico Playbook in Oregon.

The officers and board of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals made the fatal mistake of planning to hold a meeting in July – something contrary to the union's bylaws. On the agenda was whether to ask the rank-and-file about remaining affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

A few former officers found out about the plan and went to AFT national headquarters with the news. AFT proceeded to remove the duly elected officers and the entire board, and establish a trusteeship. AFT tried this once before in Puerto Rico under similar cicumstances, but it didn't work so well.

Now we learn that the Oregon local officers haven't even seen the formal charges against them, and they claim the alleged unauthorized use of union dues has to do with the money spent to set up the meeting.

Supporters of the ousted officers have created a web site called Take Back Local 5017. My advice? First, get a good labor attorney. Second, contact the Association for Union Democracy. Third, get the members in the streets.

Get numbers in the streets? In laid back Portland? Our reports are that the AFT invaders (shades of Eva Moskowitz at PS 123) are using the Randi velvet fist, treating people real nice and trying to win enough people over to kill the insurgency. All in prep for Randi's visit next week (and wouldn't she be surprised to find me out front handing out Ed Notes).

Which will go like this:

All sweetness and feeling their pain and letting bygones be bygones. She will be like sugar and have almost everyone purring. Randi's brilliance is her understanding that you can buy most people with not much more than paying them some attention and promising more of the same (see New Action Caucus). Nothing much else will really change, but people will feel they are being listened to. Thus, the major insurgency will end, there will be a few months of being paid attention to and then it's back to the beginning.

My advice to Local 5017? Stay in the AFT (that I see as a fait accompli already) and join with other emerging dissidents to make Randi rue the day she bothered to try to lock you in.

An earlier report from EIA: AFT Stages Coup (or Counter-Coup?) in Oregon.

Note his interesting final point: no member can be entirely comfortable with the summary removal of their elected officers based on the accusations of a handful of opponents. Exactly the tactic Unity Caucus uses to challenge chapter elections when they don't like the winning chapter leader or delegate.

... a small army of American Federation of Teachers officials and staff walked into the headquarters of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP) and took control of the union. The affiliate represents about 3,000 nurses and health care workers in both Washington and Oregon.

AFT put the union under a “protective order,” removing from office OFNHP President Kathy Geroux, three other officers, and the entire 16-member executive board.

“OFNHP’s leaders forgot what business they are in,” said AFT-appointed trustee Mark Richard. Richard previously served as an AFT-appointed trustee over the United Teachers of Dade after the Pat Tornillo scandal. ”They were supposed to protect members rights, create democracy in the workplace and the union hall and ensure that contractual language were protected. Instead, they engaged in a campaign of falsehoods, ignored members rights, violated their fiduciary responsibilities and placed their contract with Kaiser at risk.”

AFT asserts it was “approached by several members of the Oregon affiliate, including former elected officers, who presented a petition asking for assistance from the national union.” The current OFNHP leadership team was accused of “using union dues without proper authorization and taking actions in violation of the union’s local and national constitutions to change the bargaining status of OFNHP’s members and possibly switch union affiliations.”

“There was no other avenue left, so we acted,” said AFT spokesman Jamie Horwitz. “This is a rare circumstance triggered by a large number of local members contacting us and saying their local was out of control. The local has every right to leave the AFT, they just have to follow the rules.”

The situation may be exactly as AFT describes, but we should reserve judgment until we hear from the ousted union officers. AFT action’s are eerily similar to those it took in Puerto Rico in 2005, but the FMPR defied the trusteeship and successfully seceded from the national union.

AFT has the responsibility to protect members from the actions of unscrupulous local leaders – something it has had difficulty doing in the past – but no member can be entirely comfortable with the summary removal of their elected officers based on the accusations of a handful of opponents.

There will be more to come.

Yes there will. We're efforting to get ahold of Randi's letter to Local 5017 elected officials and hope to have reports on her visit.


Anonymous said...

Why should teacher organizers from the east coast be in Oregon trying to tell Nurses and other Health Professionals how to negotiate with the health care industry? Is this a good use of our Union's dues? Please call the AFT National headquarters and tell them to get thee organizers back yo organizing the unorganized where they belong!

Sean Ahern said...

I suggest that those interested in learning more about the issues at stake here listen to some of the members and ousted former leaders themselves. For clips of the July 11 meeting between the members and the trustees go to:

I think you will see that the situation is more complicated than the 'descent of the AFT goons' that is being suggested by the
right wing blogosphere.

What evidence do you have to suggest that the California Nurse's Organization is somehow a player in this situation? I think it is highly unlikely that they would engage or even suggest a disafiliation from another AFL-CIO union.

SEIU on the other hand (notice the support from Jobs with Justice, an SEIU offshoot) would have no such compunction.

Do you really believe that it is wise to join up with that paragon of union democracy and militance, the SEIU, 10 months before your contract expires?

Isn't it possible that there were real differences among the members and that the dialouge needed here is not facilitated by such characterizations as those offered by real enemies of the labor movement, namely the right wing blogs that you mistakenly.

Just because the FMPR disafiliated from the AFT and has gone on to establish itself as a militant and democratic union, doesn't mean that ex post facto, all locals of the AFT may be similarly transformed through disaffiliation.

ed notes online said...

As I've said before the goon characterization has come from within the local and ed notes was asked by them to publicize their plight which I did before I had any inkling of EIA reports. They made contact through susan ohanian.

As for CNA my sources only used them as a model of a union they wished the aft would be not a union they could join.

Is it being suggested we need to be fair and balanced towards the AFT, the very same union that is under the control of our very own Unity Caucus?

The AFT with red baiting staff director Jeff Zahler. A union that didn't hesitate to invalidate chapter elections of non Unity candidates. These goons don't get any benefit of the doubt from me. Let them use their own propaganda machines to tell their side of the story.

I watched every clip of the AFT propaganda piece with the suit overseers looking on. Not one person unhappy over the takeover that day? Reminded me of a uft ex bd meeting.

And it was so nice seeing Anne Goldman visiting Portland in the video, of the Goldman UFT Clan, which took down a cool $350 grand for the family Goldman from our dues last year.

Sean Ahern said...

"Is it being suggested we need to be fair and balanced towards the AFT, the very same union that is under the control of our very own Unity Caucus?"

To be unfair or unbalanced does not increase our own understanding of the situation which must perforce guide our responses and programs and organizing which aim to change the leadership and direction of the UFT/AFT.

The AFT trustees state that a local has a right to dissafiliate but that there is a process to be followed. Two questions:
1) what's the process ? The rules of the game should not be known only to the AFT leadership and should not be manipulated at will.
2) what are the specific grievances of the Portland local that have led them to even consider disafiliation? The issues should not be a secret between you and your 'portland source'. Lets hear them and consider the issues, not as a soundbite for the right wing blogosphere looking to discredit unions, but as partisans in the labor movement looking to build democratic and militant organizations
There have been quite a few very sharp critiques of Unity policies, past and present that don't involve name calling or baiting or reference to secret sources.

The problem with name calling, gossip and secret sources is that it crowds out balanced and fair criticism. It gains 'market share', increases blog traffic like a sensational headline does for a tabloid, it leverages access to information, real and contrived, but leaves the rank and file no wiser or stronger than we were before.

Ed Notes can advance its reputation as a source of information and increase its readership by being fair and balanced - I am not suggesting that you should or could be non partisan. We can be partisans without being blinded by partisanship. I am not defending the imposition of trusteeship over the local in Portland. They have the right to decide their own affiliation and it is our duty in solidarity to defend their rights as our own.

My point is that we the rank and file will be better able to oust the misleadership of our unions, change our affiliations or form independent unions to the extent that we have an understanding of the context and have good skills in building consensus among the people which include former supporters of Unity and NAC. Short of that the inevitable differences that arise among us will always be used against us. If we do not find ways to rule ourselves democratically, we will be ruled by others, undemocratically.

When I see the buzzards flying overhead, buzzards like; right wing bloggers looking for an opening to wreck havoc from within; an Education Secretary openly calling for massive public school closings; an administration that won't even consider single payer health insurance for all; equally opportunistic union misleaders in the SEIU looking to increase their market share; yes I am very concerned that we develop a balanced and fair critique of the situation in Portland. To my mind its as close to an accurate critque as we are likely to get.

When I see the rank and file honestly grappling with issues on which consensus has not yet been reached; when I see contract negotiations coming up with the health care profiteers in a dire economy; when I see the AFT mis leadership imposing a trusteeship likely intended to abort a process that the local membership is entitled to engage in, and that , if handled in a democratic fashion, would likely add to the local's solidarity and resolve to resist givebacks and takeaways; yes I am very concerned that balance and fairness be applied and that the full picture be taken in here.

Particularly in such dangerous times, we need it for ourselves, not to go easy on the sellouts and collaborators who have mislead the labor movement for half a century, but to build a new movement as fully cognisant of the dangers and opportunities at hand as our collective wisdom may discern.