Union vs. Union in California - Has the New York Times
Crossed the Line of Journalistic Objectivity? (2 posts)
1. Union Battle in California Threatens S.E.I.U. (Steven
Greenhouse in the New York Times)
2. Greenhouse Violates NY Times' Policy in SEIU-NUHW Story
(Randy Shaw in Beyond Chron)
Union Battle in California Threatens S.E.I.U.
By Steven Greenhouse
New York Times
September 14, 2010
OAKLAND, Calif. - During his two decades building one of the
largest union locals in California, Sal Rosselli earned a
reputation as a cunning strategist and street fighter -
someone who often vilified hospital chains during contract
These days, he is using those brass knuckles on his former
colleagues at the Service Employees International Union in a
battle that threatens to rip a giant hole in the most
powerful union in the nation's largest state.
The S.E.I.U.'s national leadership ousted Mr. Rosselli last
year after a power struggle that ended with a jury finding
that he had improperly used member dues to form a breakaway
union. Shortly after being ousted, Mr. Rosselli did create a
rival union, and now he is trying to lure many of his former
members - 43,000 workers at Kaiser Permanente, the largest
health care provider in the state.
On Monday, workers at 331 Kaiser facilities across
California began voting by mail on whether to bolt the
S.E.I.U. and join Mr. Rosselli's group, the National Union
of Healthcare Workers.
A victory would give a vital boost to Mr. Rosselli's
fledgling 6,000-member union, all but assuring its long-term
survival. It would also be a huge blow to the 1.9-million-
member service employees union, since Mr. Rosselli's group
would gain the stature and dues money to finance a broader
war for far more S.E.I.U. members.
Many in the labor movement hail Mr. Rosselli as a fearless
champion of bottom-up union democracy who is challenging
what he calls the S.E.I.U.'s "sweetheart deals" with
employers. But others denounce him as an ego-driven pied
piper waging a wasteful civil war within the country's
fastest-growing, most politically active union.
The Kaiser face-off is the biggest union election in the
private sector since 1941, when 74,000 workers at Ford
Motor's River Rouge complex in Michigan, then the world's
largest industrial facility, voted to unionize. The Ford
vote was a giant step in building the labor movement; some
see the Kaiser fight as a major step backward.
"It's tragic that with so many workers wanting to be
organized into unions, so much energy and money are being
devoted to the fight at Kaiser," said William B. Gould IV, a
labor law professor at Stanford University and former
chairman of the National Labor Relations Board.
With unusual nastiness, the two unions have traded
accusations of lying, stealing, fraud and intimidation - not
exactly the image the labor movement wants to project as it
tries to improve its tattered reputation. In one instance,
Mr. Rosselli's group accused S.E.I.U. activists of
threatening some immigrant Kaiser employees with deportation
unless they stopped supporting the rival union. Service
employee officials say that is a lie concocted by Rosselli
partisans with feverish imaginations.
The fratricidal war is a distraction as the November
elections approach. The S.E.I.U. has dispatched hundreds of
foot soldiers to defeat Mr. Rosselli. Other unions say they
wish those activists were campaigning instead to elect
Meanwhile, corporate executives can only gloat as they watch
the S.E.I.U. - a scourge to many employers because of its
aggressive tactics - spend millions of dollars battling not
business, but another union. Saying "the S.E.I.U. is putting
unimagined resources into this fight," Mr. Rosselli asserts
that his nemesis will spend $40 million on the election;
S.E.I.U. officials say they will spend at most one-tenth
for full story, go here:
Greenhouse Violates NY Times' Policy in SEIU-NUHW Story
by Randy Shaw
Beyond Chron - The Voice of the Rest
September 15, 2010
In his September 14 story, "Union vs. Union," New York Times
reporter Steven Greenhouse relied on confidential sources
("outside labor experts") to back SEIU's false claims that
an NUHW victory jeopardizes worker benefits under Kaiser's
current contract. Greenhouse interviewed a number of labor
experts, but none was willing to publicly support the SEIU
view. Yet instead of concluding that SEIU was wrong and/or
lying, Greenhouse propped up SEIU's falsehoods by claiming
"outside labor experts" backed them. Greenhouse also failed
to disclose a recent NLRB regional director's finding that
Kaiser violated federal law when it rescinded pay raises for
workers who earlier voted to leave SEIU for NUHW - the exact
situation now at issue. The Times policy on confidential
news sources states, "we will not use anonymous sourcing
when sources we can name are readily available." Despite
many "readily available" labor experts, some of whom were
cited by other news outlets, Greenhouse violated Times
policy and used unnamed sources in his zeal to promote SEIU.
The New York Times is the gold standard for newspapers in
the United States, and has adopted a tough policy against
reliance on confidential news sources. The introduction to
its policy states:
"Readers of The New York Times demand to know as much as
possible about where we obtain our information and why it
merits their trust. For that reason, we have long observed
the principle of identifying our sources by name and title
or, when that is not possible, explaining why we consider
them authoritative, why they are speaking to us and why they
have demanded confidentiality."
As I recently reported, SEIU's chief campaign argument at
Kaiser is that workers will lose current contract benefits
if they switch to NUHW. SEIU has repeated this false
argument despite an NLRB ruling directly to the contrary.
The truth of SEIU's charges does not require a labor expert
to be an undisclosed whistleblower, or to remain
unidentified in order to avoid jeopardizing public safety or
national security. Rather, it requires a conscientious
reporter to talk to a labor expert and provide readers with
this expert's interpretation of federal labor law.
That's what veteran reporter David Moberg did in his
September 13 In These Times article, Kaiser's Bitter Labor
War. Ellen Dannin, a former attorney for the NLRB and author
of Taking Back the Workers' Law, told Moberg, "Going on
basic [National Labor Relations] Board law, the terms of
employment remain the status quo until there is an agreement
between the successor union and the employer, or if the
parties reach impasse, when the employer can impose terms."
New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse has far more
resources at his disposal than Moberg, and can pick up the
phone and get nearly any labor expert in the country to talk
to, and be quoted in, the Times. In fact, Greenhouse's
article cites two prominent labor experts, Nelson
Lichtenstein and William Gould IV, neither of whom were
quoted to support SEIU's legal position.
Contrary to Times policy, Greenhouse never explained why he
cited "outside labor experts" rather than providing their
names. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that
Greenhouse did not like what he heard from labor experts
willing to be identified, so relied on unnamed sources to
bolster SEIU's multi-million dollar disinformation campaign.
And Times editors should be particularly troubled by
Greenhouse's omission of the NLRB regional director's ruling
on this legal question. The opinion of the preeminent
government agency on federal labor law should be given
greater weight than the "outside labor experts" Greenhouse
A Journalistic Failure
Greenhouse's article fails on journalistic grounds for other
reasons as well.
First, his fundamental framing is that Sal Rosselli "did
create a rival union" and that he is now using "brass
knuckles" against SEIU. Greenhouse knows perfectly well that
NUHW was created, and could only legally have been created,
by workers themselves.
This is not a small point. The only reason there is an
election at Kaiser is that thousands of workers filed
petitions to decertify SEIU. As much as Greenhouse and
others seek to portray this as some sort of Star Wars-like
revenge saga by Sal Rosselli, this struggle is about workers
choosing between two very different models of unionism.
Greenhouse's attribution of "brass knuckles" to Rosselli is
particularly inaccurate, given that it is SEIU that has been
associated with virtually every act of violence and thuggery
during its many elections against NUHW. This includes the
death threats made by an SEIU staffer against NUHW employees
at Kaiser's Baldwin Park hospital, which resulted in a court
issuance of a temporary restraining order against her.
Second, while Greenhouse cites SEIU President Mary Kay Henry
urging NUHW to "consider organizing non-union workers," he
fails to acknowledge that NUHW did precisely this in winning
the nation's biggest hospital organizing campaign at St.
Joseph's Hospital in Santa Rosa in December 2009. Nor does
Greenhouse ask Henry why SEIU has only organized one new
health care facility in California over the past eighteen
months, which is one less new facility than that organized
Third, readers have come to expect Times reporters to check
crucial facts rather than just citing each side's claims.
Here, Greenhouse quotes NUHW saying SEIU is spending $40
million on the Kaiser campaign, and SEIU saying they are
spending at most $4 million.
Having clearly spoken to many inside and outside labor
experts, one wonders why Greenhouse did not make even a
minimal effort to assess SEIU's campaign costs. If he had,
he would have likely found that SEIU is waging perhaps the
most expensive political campaign per voter in United States
history, which certainly would have given readers a
different take on the entire Kaiser contest.
Sadly, Greenhouse likely knew the truth about SEIU's
spending and felt it was not fit to print. A reporter who
claims that SEIU has dispatched "hundreds" of foot soldiers
when SEIU is not even hiding the fact that it brought in
2000 to add to its prior 600 has lost any claim to
[Randy Shaw's Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and
the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century has just been
released in paperback by the University of California
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