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PORTSIDELABOR  November 2012, Week 4

PORTSIDELABOR November 2012, Week 4


Book Review by Steve Early, and Response by Author Jane McAlevey


Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>


Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>


Mon, 26 Nov 2012 23:09:34 -0500





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Book Review by Steve Early, and Response by Author
Jane McAlevey
Both to appear in WorkingUSA December 2012

Bidding Adieu to SEIU: Lessons for Its Next Generation
of Organizers?
By Steve Early

A review of Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell): My
Decade Fighting For the Labor Movement, by Jane
McAlevey with Bob Ostertag. New York/London: Verso
Books, 2012. 318 pp. $25.95 (hardcover)

Few modern unions have done more outside hiring than
the Service Employees International Union (SEIU),
America's second largest labor organization. Beginning
in the mid-1970s and continuing unabated today, SEIU
and its local affiliates have employed tens of
thousands of non-members as organizers, servicing reps,
researchers, education specialists, PR people, and
staffers of other kinds. While most unions hire and
promote largely from within (i.e. from the ranks of
their working members), SEIU has always cast its net

It has welcomed energetic refugees from other unions,
promising young student activists, former community
organizers, ex-environmentalists, Democratic Party
campaign operatives, and political exiles from abroad.
(One prototypical campus recruit was my older daughter,
Alex, a Latin-American studies major who became a local
union staffer for SEIU after supporting the janitors
employed at her Connecticut college.)

Many, if not most, of SEIU's outside hires no longer
work for the union, in part because of its penchant for
"management by churn." This means that its network of
distinguished alumni today is far larger than its
current national and local workforce, which is not
small. And not all of these SEIU alums have fond
memories of their tour of duty in purple, the union's
signature color. For an institution that demands great
loyalty from its staff, SEIU is not known for its
reciprocal attachment to those who do its bidding.
Ex-SEIUers include many dedicated, hard-working
organizers who were useful for a while, until they were

In several recent purges, SEIU even managed to forget
about the past services rendered by organizers
sometimes described as "legendary." I refer here to
Bruce Raynor, former head of Workers United/SEIU, and
Stephen Lerner, a fellow SEIU executive board member
who directed the union's Private Equity Project and
devised its much-applauded "Justice for Janitors"
campaigns two decades ago.

Cut From The Purple Team

Raynor began his labor career as a southern textile
worker organizer in the 1970s, helping workers like the
one portrayed by Sally Fields in Norma Rae. While still
serving as national president of UNITE HERE in 2009,
Raynor rather messily defected to SEIU, a fellow Change
To Win affiliate. In the face of stiff rank-and-file
opposition, he steered about a quarter of UNITE Here's
membership into the far larger union run by his friend,
Andy Stern.

Raynor was given a new title-- Executive Vice-President
of SEIU. Yet, just two years later, he was drummed out
of Workers United/SEIU on disputed charges of expense
account fiddling (Why someone earning more than a
quarter of a million dollars a year needed to bill SEIU
for $2,300 worth of "non-business" lunches remains an
unsolved mystery of American labor, right up there with
the final resting place of Jimmy Hoffa).

Stephen Lerner's fall from grace (and loss of his
$156,000 annual salary) began, more incrementally, in
the fall of 2010. Lerner had just unveiled what was
supposed to be a global, multi-union SEIU-coordinated
bank workers organizing campaign, only to find himself
put out on paid administrative leave for three months,
after a noisy beef with his new SEIU headquarters boss.
Lerner had been an influential publicist for many SEIU
causes, including the New Unity Partnership (a
predecessor to Change To Win), when his longtime
patron, Andy Stern, was still Service Employees
president. Under Stern's successor (and protege), Mary
Kay Henry, Lerner's contributions were far less
appreciated and, soon, no longer wanted at all.

Under President Henry, Lerner's bank worker organizing
was shut down. But, when his SEIU staff pension and job
severance issues were eventually sorted out, he became
free to rail, to his heart's content, about Wall Street
and "the banksters" bereft of any meaningful union
base. Henry then ran, un-opposed, for re-election in
May, 2012, with an "administration slate" cleansed of
both Lerner and Raynor.

A "Deep Organizer" Scorned

Jane McAlevey, author of Raising Expectations (And
Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting For the Labor
Movement, was very briefly, in 2008, a member of the
same national union executive board graced, in happier
days, by both men. While the normally quite vocal
Lerner and Raynor have been very reticent about their
involuntary departure from SEIU, McAlevey is a woman
organizer scorned (or unburdened by any non-disclosure
agreement?). Her resulting fury, or political
frustration, is reflected in many parts of her memoir
about being undermined and driven out of a 9,000-member
SEIU affiliate in Nevada that she labels "one of the
most successful in the nation." Written with the
assistance of Bob Ostertag, Raising Expectations
settles old scores with numerous members of what
McAlevey calls "the Stern gang in D.C.," who helped
shorten her illustrious SEIU career to a mere 4 years.
The book should, therefore, be required reading for
anyone hoping to last longer at SEIU--"before the rug
is pulled out from under them" by the same "people at
the top" who so disdained McAlevey because she wouldn't
cop to their "paranoid institutional culture."

Lest anyone think that the author's own employment was
a little short-term for such a blistering critique of
SEIU and other unions, I should note (as the book's
subtitle does) that McAlevey actually spent an entire
decade trying to straighten out organized labor before
concluding it was pretty hopeless. As she writes in the
book's final chapter:

I operated on the assumption that, if you just kept
winning in a principled way, the work you were doing
would create the conditions for its own continued
existence. The people at the top might not like you,
they might not understand what you were trying to do,
they might consider you a big pain in the ass, but if
you consistently succeeded at the assignments they gave
you, ultimately they would give you more assignments
and the work would go forward.

I was wrong....Past a certain point, winning actually
becomes a liability, because the people at the top will
feel threatened by the power you're accumulating unless
they can control it; they cannot imagine that your
ambition would not be to use that power in the same way
they use theirs. It took ten years of banging my head
on a wall to finally knock that into it.

Power Structure Analyst?

Forty-eight year old McAlevey had a varied non-labor
career before she started "winning in a principled way"
and power-accumulating (without personal ambition) in
"the house of labor." She was a student government
leader at the State University of New York at Buffalo,
an activist in the environmental justice movement at
home and abroad, associate director of the Highlander
Center in Tennessee, and a program officer for Veatch,
a progressive foundation backed by the Unitarian

In 1998, McAlevey was recruited by then-AFL-CIO
Organizing Director Richard Bensinger to head up the
Stamford Organizing Project. SOP was a collaborative
effort by local affiliates of SEIU, the Auto Workers,
Hotel Employees, and Food and Commercial Workers.
Raising Expectations reports that it "helped 5,000
workers successfully form unions and win first
contracts that set new standards in their industries
and [local] market." This multi-racial, cross-union
model wasn't replicated elsewhere, the author suggests,
becausepost-1995 efforts "to reform the national
AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C. were shipwrecking."  One
casualty was the federation's short-lived experiment
with Stamford-style "geographical organizing."

Even after she moved on, McAlevey's methods earned high
marks from campus fans like Dan Clawson, author of The
Next Upsurge: Labor and the New Social Movements, who
lauded the Stamford project as an expression of new
"social movement unionism."  McAlevey prefers to call
her work "deep organizing" or, in other parts of the
book, "whole worker organizing." This approach involves
"bring[ing] community organizing techniques right into
the shop floor while moving labor organizing techniques
out into the community" after conducting "power
structure analysis that enables workers to
systematically pool their knowledge of their
communities and integrate this knowledge with
conventional research done by union professionals."
Workers themselves, not union staffers or some "union
front group," are empowered to decide "when and where
to take on 'non-workplace issues,'" like affordable
housing, that too many unions fail to address.

A Mission in Las Vegas

After Stamford, McAlevey worked for SEIU in New York,
Washington, D.C., Kansas, and California as the union's
Deputy Director for Strategic Campaigns at Tenet
Healthcare and other companies. Her longest and last
stand was in Las Vegas, working as the Andy
Stern-installed executive director of 9,000-member
Local 1107, a public sector and health care affiliate
of SEIU that also represented thousands of non-dues

McAlevey variously describes the local she took over in
2004 as "a rat's nest," a "joke," and a dysfunctional
"grievance mill." Her opinion of her new home wasn't
much higher. It's "a myth" that Las Vegas is a model
"union town," she contends. UNITE-HERE Local 226 may
have done "a stellar job of winning good
contracts"--but that only means the city has "a union
street...universally known as the Strip." As for the
rest of the place, according to the author, it's "a
phony city built on gambling and prostitution" located
"in a corrupt right-to-work state" where "the
temperature climbs above 110 for days on end." Sin
City's one redeeming feature, for McAlevey, was "land
so cheap that I could get a little place where my horse
could live with me." (According to the author, her
equine companion, a Tennessean named Jalapeno, later
came in handy when she tried to bond with local
politicos, who also spent off-duty time in the saddle.)

Prior to arriving in this desert, McAlevey's
headquarters handlers all agreed that she "should
present herself as a seasoned hand at negotiating
contracts," a major responsibility of her new appointed
position. Her actual bargaining experience was
shockingly thin, for someone who was now representing
thousands of workers at Hospital Corporation of
America, United Health Services, Catholic Healthcare
West, and other large employers. "I had hardly even
read a union contract," the author admits. "I had never
negotiated and there all sorts of technicalities of the
collective bargaining process I had no clue about."
(One SEIU headquarters helper reassured her that
workers would soon discover how "really talented and
terrific" she was anyway.) Fortunately, with much
long-distance telephone call coaching from New England
1199/SEIU leader Jerry Brown, McAlevey proved to be a
fast learner.

Derailing "the little juggernaut"

During her first several years as its staff director,
McAlevey helped strengthen Local 1107 by overhauling
the local's financial and administrative practices,
hiring younger staffers, encouraging member involvement
in bargaining, better integrating internal and external
organizing, and reviving SEIU as a political force in
Nevada. Several of the best chapters in Raising
Expectations describe her jousting with management and
provide detailed examples of how open negotiations
(what the author calls "big representation bargaining")
can increase rank-and-file participation and restore
members 'confidence in the union as their workplace

McAlevey now believes that, despite this promising
beginning and favorable contract results, her
commitment to "building real worker power"--though
"activism on the shopfloor"--conflicted too much with
the "vested interests" of those "higher up" in SEIU.
Her headquarters critics favored labor-management
partnering and no longer wanted to deal with members'
day-to-day job problems.  Her personal string of
"who-would-have-believed-it" victories, in a "maverick
local," was just too much of an affront to top
officials, who frowned on strikes and other forms of
worker militancy. Her adversaries in the SEIU
bureaucracy made sure she remained politically
"vulnerable" and, if necessary, easily discarded.
According to McAlevey, "the national SEIU sucked" and
was just itching "to derail the little juggernaut we
had put together in Vegas."

In reality, the author's political demise was hastened
by her role in a failed attempt to remove Local 1107
President Vicki Hedderman and her allies from their
elected positions, a campaign assisted by President
Stern. A former unit clerk at Clark County Hospital,
Hedderman was, in McAlevey's view, too focused on
filing grievances and not sufficiently supportive of
new organizing. McAlevey depicts her nominal boss as
"tenaciously" clinging to the perks of office, while
keeping 1107's public sector and healthcare members at
odds, and thwarting the author's ambitious plans for
unifying and transforming the local. According to
McAlevey, Hedderman and other incumbents "had
maintained control of the local by trading their
attentiveness to individual grievances for the votes of
the workers who filed them."

It was not part of McAlevey's formal job description to
meddle in the local's internal politics or round up
votes a different way. But that's what she did, rather
in-expertly and disastrously. She  recruited opposition
candidates who ended up being covertly financed by
out-of-state SEIU donations solicited by Stern. One of
these $5,000 gifts--from Ohio SEIU leader Dave
Regan--"turned out to be money that technically could
not be used for [union] elections." The U.S. Department
of Labor intervened--and found other misconduct as
well. A membership uproar ensued and much bad publicity
was generated. Hedderman survived both McAlevey's
original electoral challenge and a hasty re-run ordered
by SEIU. To restore peace to 1107, an emissary from
SEIU headquarters negotiated the joint resignations of
both women--an exit strategy for McAlevey that she now
describes as "taking the fall for Andy Stern."

There's a saying, popular among judges: "Ignorance of
the law is no excuse." In this most murky section of
her book, McAlevey pleads ignorance nevertheless. She
claims that her extensive knowledge of "real world
election laws" (i.e. those applying to "county
commission races" in Nevada) and the federal "labor
laws that relate to beating multi-national
corporations" just didn't extend to the
Landrum-Grifffin Act, which protects workers' rights as
union members. "Internal union election law was all
news to me," she confesses.

Disliked By "The Queen of Petty"

Equally disingenuous is McAlevey's claim to have been
victimized by "the pervasive sexism among the men who
are most in control of the resources in unions
today."Lack of women in the leadership and insufficient
nurturing of female rank-and-file activists is, indeed
a continuing labor problem, notwithstanding the valiant
efforts of various women's caucuses. Yet Raising
Expectations is full of praise for McAlevey's "beloved
and invaluable mentors"--almost all of them
high-ranking men (like Brown and Bensinger; Bensinger's
successor at the AFL-CIO, Kirk Adams, who is now a top
SEIU official again; and ex-SEIU healthcare division
head Larry Fox, who along with current SEIU
Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina, was responsible for
"shoehorning" the author into Las Vegas).

In contrast, almost every personal nemesis we meet is
female (with the exception of McAlevey's two
problematic allies, Andy Stern and Dave Regan). First,
we encounter Mary Kay Henry, who "was clearly not
comfortable with me" and failed to return the author's
phone calls; next, "The Queen of Petty," longtime SEIU
Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger, makes an appearance,
blocking McAlevey from speaking to the SEIU executive
board (because Jane was "someone she doesn't like to
have around);" and then there is Judy Scott, SEIU
General Counsel, who calls to "browbeat" Jane "into
"capitulating to Hospital Corporation of America" so
"labor peace" in Las Vegas could be traded for
"organizing rights" elsewhere.

Meanwhile, throughout much of her narrative, the author
is continually harried by Hedderman, and her "old
guard" allies (many of them female) who resist internal
change. Circling outside Local 1107 is the predatory
California Nurses Association (CNA), headed by the
always Machiavellian RoseAnn DeMoro, who descends on
strife-torn Nevada SEIU to recruit hundreds of Reno
nurses who've become disenchanted with SEIU and Jane.

A "Retrogressive" DeMoro

In McAlevey's view, the CNA's high-profile Executive
Director is badly miscast as the progressive heroine
"of academic Marxists, student radicals, and others on
the margins of unions." According to the author,
DeMoro's craft-union " completely
retrogressive" and "encourages an attitude of elitism
rather than solidarity" among nurses in relation to
other lower-paid, less skilled hospital workers. But
Raising Expectations debunks the CNA as labor's
"self-styled left-wing" only in passing. McAlevey
mainly frames her book as "Exhibit A in the case
against Stern, SEIU, and the 'shallow organizing'
vision for American labor that they have come to
personify." According to the author, this "shallow
mobilizing approach" leaves members with "only the most
tenuous relationship with their union." As a result,
"the political endorsements their unions give to
candidates or ballot initiatives mean little more to
workers than the endorsements of their bosses or Fox

[T]he union becomes nothing more than the contract and
the contract is only engaged when a worker files a
grievance. The union becomes an insurance plan, like
car insurance, to which workers pay dues "in case you
need it." Staff talk to workers like Geico claims
adjustors after an accident.

Given Mary Kay Henry's "many years as Stern's loyal
protege, and her role in the events described in this
book" McAlevey finds it "hard to imagine she will alter
SEIU's course in any significant way." The author takes
direct aim at Henry's "Fight for a Fair Economy," a
current SEIU campaign much ballyhooed in the
blogosphere and publications like The Nation. According
to the McAlevey, FFE is just another form of "tactical
and transactional engagement" with the community that
involves union staff   renting or buying community
groups, or simply setting up their own fully
controllable" ones." As she accurately observes:

SEIU is spending tens of millions of dollars
'mobilizing underpaid, underemployed, and unemployed
workers' and 'channeling anger about jobs into action
for positive change." What's beyond bizarre is that the
program is aimed a mobilizing poor people rather than
SEIU's own base. SEIU looks everywhere except to their
own membership to gin up popular revolts.

A "Popular Revolt" Within SEIU

The author's overall report card on SEIU echoes the
better-articulated critique developed by its California
rival, the new National Union of Healthcare Workers
(NUHW). NUHW was born out of a popular revolt that
didn't have to be ginned up. In January,2009, Stern put
members of SEIU's third largest affiliate, United
Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) under trusteeship for
challenging him at the union's 2008 convention in
Puerto Rico, resisting his attempted dismantling of
their local afterwards, and publicly questioning the
same kind of heath care industry "growth deals" that
McAlevey also found troubling.

However, in 2008, when soon-to-be-ousted UHW President
Sal Rosselli and other would-be reformers opposed
Stern's further consolidation of personal power at the
SEIU convention, McAlevey was no ally of theirs.
Instead, without ever having served as an elected local
officer of SEIU, she accepted Stern's invitation to run
on his slate for the SEIU executive board, a body that
Rosselli was purged from. Getting this promotion, of
course, required that she distance herself from the
vocal minority of delegates critical of the union's
increasingly undemocratic practices and lax contract
enforcement. (She describes their brave efforts as just
"fizzling" out.) Her own IEB tenure proved to be
short-lived, due to her SEIU-brokered resignation from
Local 1107 in late June, 2008, and subsequent year-long
struggle with cancer.

In Raising Expectations, McAlevey's brief elevation to
the SEIU board goes unmentioned, since that episode
might undercut her claim now that she was among those
more "moderate" SEIU progressives who were quietly
"working to build opposition to [Stern's] policies,"
while avoiding "a frontal assault on Stern's
leadership" of the sort launched by the "loud" and
"bombastic" Rosselli. Among McAlevey's convention
running-mates was Dave Regan, the same "Stern loyalist"
and "stooge" whose Ohio "political fund Stern tapped
for the money he had promised for our union election in
Nevada--the down payment that turned out to be
technically illegal." The truly bombastic Regan later
became Stern's trustee over UHW, a role he has
transformed into a lucrative $300,000 a year local
union presidency.

Now representing more than 10,000 workers, NUHW
continues to challenge SEIU in California healthcare
units because of the top-down, management-friendly
deal-making (by Regan and others) that McAlevey decries
in her book. Nevertheless, Raising Expectations
displays minimal sympathy for the dedicated organizers
and workplace leaders who created NUHW, after Stern
slammed the door on their internal SEIU reform efforts.
Unlike McAlevey's smaller-scale Nevada tiffs with SEIU
headquarters, the California health care workers'
rebellion represented a real threat to national union
control. That's why SEIU sued 28 NUHW founders for $25
million dollars and won a very unjust $1.5 million
federal court judgment against 16 of them (that is
still under appeal).

Captive Members?

All we learn about "the resulting war" is that McAlevey
opposes "raids" because they're "one of the sleaziest
things one union can do to another." In her view, union
leaders, not workers, end up "decid[ing] whether an
existing union is bad enough to warrant being raided by
another union." Left unexplained by the author is why
"workers with bad unions" should be denied "the chance
to jump to more effective ones"--particularly, where
the alternative choice, NUHW, is a more militant,
democratic, and member-driven union (plus, one that's
backed by respected SEIU veterans like Jerry Brown, the
now-retired Connecticut leader who was McAlevey's most
trusted advisor in Las Vegas).

In Raising Expectations, McAlevey expounds instead on
her own preferred community and labor organizing
models. She provides little or no practical guidance
for members still trapped in her old union (other then
maybe learning from her mistake of breaking federal law
to influence local union election results?). McAlevey's
book is neither well-documented labor reporting nor an
academic study of U.S. union dysfunction (although,
post-SEIU, the author enrolled in a City University of
New York graduate program).  Instead, it's a memoir
more self-absorbed than self-aware, whose main strength
lies in its several very detailed and useful case
studies of contract campaigns worthy of emulation in
other open shop states. Too often, however, Raising
Expectations is so narcissistic that the book's factual
narrative (and overall information value) suffers as

Most rank-and-file oriented organizers--as opposed to
the egocentric top officials criticized by the
author--try to make union-building a collective effort,
not a one-person show. In  Raising Expectations,
McAlevey seems to be less the "left-wing troublemaker,"
she claims to be, and more of a progressive prima
donna, operating in episodic "Lone Ranger" fashion
(albeit always with a coterie of admiring young
staffers).  In contrast, labor's more effective
grassroots organizers tend to be long distance runners,
not sprinters or relay team members who have trouble
cooperating with others on the squad and maintaining
enduring relationships with workers. They also don't
make the project of union renewal so much about
themselves or their own heroic endeavors. In the case
of those activists still challenging SEIU in
California, many have paid a far higher personal price
than McAlevey ever did, because their labor reform
efforts involved real risk-taking, not just
self-promotion (and literary-reinvention) as a martyr
to the cause.

Steve Early worked as an organizer and contract
negotiator for the Communications Workers of America
from 1980 to 2007. He is a longtime supporter of
Teamsters for a Democratic Union, Labor Notes, and
other union democracy and reform networks. He is the
author most recently of The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor
from Haymarket Books, which chronicles the struggle
between SEIU and NUHW in California. He can be reached
at [log in to unmask]

* * * * * * * 

Response to Steve Early's Review of Raising Expectations
By Jane McAlevey

The editors have graciously offered me the opportunity
to respond to Steve Early's review of Raising
Expectations (and Raising Hell). I want to respond to
Early's review, which focuses primarily on about ten
percent of the book, but also to give people some idea
of what the other ninety percent is about.

It will be no surprise to knowledgeable readers that
Steve Early's review is heavily focused on the National
Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).  In Early's The
Civil Wars in US Labor, he declares himself as not only
a partisan, but as among the biggest cheerleaders of
the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).
However, in his review of my book, Early keeps his
sympathies under the table. This does a disservice to
readers who try to make sense of all this. Readers of
his review of Raising Expectations might get the
impression that my book is all about his interest,
NUHW. Not at all. My book is about organizing, and how
to rebuild the US labor movement in a time of
tremendous difficulty and multiple setbacks.

In my book, I clearly identified myself as someone who
tried to steer an independent course amidst complicated
turf wars--the issues that matter most to Early. 
That's apparently enough for Early to direct a lot of
criticism at me, some of it directly on NUHW matters,
some of it spillover about somewhat related points.  (I
am not, it might be noted, alone as an object of 
Early's criticisms.)

Some of what's at stake has to do with political
interpretations and loyalties, some of it is simple
matters of fact.  A factual question that might matter
on these issues is that Early gives the impression that
my tenure on the International Executive Board or IEB
was several weeks long. Early states that I was elected
to the board in June of 2008 and that I left a few
weeks later. In fact, I was elected to the IEB for the
first time in early 2007 to fill a vacancy, and later
re-elected. Of interest to Early, during this period on
the IEB, I declined to sign an infamous letter IEB
board members wrote to academics, scolding them for
what they considered to be interference in the pending
trusteeship of California's big healthcare local,
United Healthcare Workers West (UHW).

Similarly, Early reports that "...her illustrious SEIU
career...[was] a mere 4 years," an assertion he makes
seemingly to undermine my credibility. In fact, I
worked for SEIU for 7 years, and worked so closely with
an SEIU local, District 1199 New England, for an
additional 3 years, that my total SEIU experience is a
full decade (as the title of the book suggests).

Since I am not 100% aligned with Early's views, Early
apparently sees me as the enemy and is looking to
discredit everything I do and say. Turf wars have the
potential to lead to that approach, and I gather that
Early is known for it; readers need to judge for
themselves if that's the most useful way to advance the
labor movement and help workers improve their
conditions. For example, although I condemn the raid
against Sal Rosselli, head of what is now NUHW, Early
says, "Raising Expectations displays minimal sympathy
for the dedicated organizers and workplace leaders who
created NUHW...." I praise the work of several of UHW's
staff organizers by name including Glen Goldstien, Dana
Simon and Brian McNamara, in addition to acknowledging
Rosselli's local sending us their purple RV (an
important resource our local was far too small to own),
and offer other instances where Roselli's local
supported the Nevada workers. But Early can't tolerate
that I also expose some painful experiences where
Rosselli acted in less than stellar ways--as when
Rosselli sided with Stern against the Nevada workers
when we were disputing whether or not our rank-and-file
had the right to strike. The world isn't as pure or as
binary as partisans might see it.

The review is drenched with sexism, best--though not
only--reflected by this line, "McAlevey is a woman
organizer scorned...." My, my, my, the "woman" there
certainly is needed. You'd think Early could see
reasons why people might be upset with SEIU. And that,
"a woman scorned" wouldn't be at the top of the list.
This is not exactly his proudest political moment,
though perhaps his most revealing.

The civil wars in labor may be at the top of Early's
agenda, and they matter to my story, but they are a
side issue in a book focused on organizing.  Quoting
from the third paragraph of the "Introduction:"

"So first and foremost, this book is about organizing.
Why? Because if there is any one message I hope to
convey, it is that present-day American service workers
can militantly confront corporations and government and
win. .... The organizing I have been involved in for
the last ten years has won. As a result, there are
thousands of workers who now expect to have a greater
say in what goes on at their workplace, expect their
jobs to be more productive and effective, and
anticipate a better quality of life when they are old 
and that they will have more money for their children's
education. Their relationship with their coworkers has
become richer, they feel less intimidated by their
superiors, and when they face a collective problem they
have a realistic chance of finding a collective

I very much appreciate Steve Early's assessment that
"Several of the best chapters in Raising Expectations
describe her jousting with management and provide
detailed examples of how open negotiations (what the
author calls, "big, representative, bargaining") can
increase rank-and-file participation and restore
members confidence in the union as their workplace
voice." There are sixteen (16) chapters in the book,
and by my count fourteen (14) of them are dedicated to
the nuts and bolts of what constitutes good organizing.
Additionally, a top goal of the book is to reach a
broad audience so that the central issue of the
importance of unions, and of why we still believe
American workers can win, reaches beyond the already
converted. The personal approach the book takes was
done intentionally (and because, as I discuss in the
epilogue, I wrote the book while I was grounded for
several months fighting cancer; most people familiar
with organizers know it would literally take tying us
down to get us to focus on writing for months on end;
cancer replaced the ropes for me). Remarkably, this
becomes an example of how I am just an uppity,
self-centered woman, "a progressive prima donna." Go

The book begins with my reflections on being in the
trenches in the 2000 Florida Recount. I use the
experience of being a senior organizer for the AFL-CIO
assigned to the Gore campaign to create a metaphor for
the deeply problematic relationship between the
Democratic Party and organized labor--a theme that I
raise throughout the book. The Democrats were unwilling
or unable to mobilize a movement in support of Gore;
unfortunately, labor went along with (or possibly even
agreed with?) that mistaken call by the Democrats. I
describe in detail several efforts we led to buck the
mainstream Democratic Party from within the primary
system and run opposition candidates against what we
call bad Democrats--a category of politicians I refer
to in the book as a "target-rich environment." We were
successful every time and the approach constituted a
sort of left wing precursor to the Tea Party--an effort
to seize the party from within, with the hopes that we
can one day build our own.

But the vast majority of the book deals with a
blow-by-blow account of what it takes to win at a time
when labor is losing, and to rebuild moribund union
locals. This segment comes from the end of a chapter
called, "Laying the Foundation"--and reflects how much
we had accomplished in just one year in Las Vegas:

"By late spring of 2005 we had set new standards for
Las Vegas hospital workers in the contracts we'd won at
Desert Springs and Valley hospitals, and then topped
those standards with the even better contracts at the
two CHW hospitals. We had organized workers at three
more hospitals into the union, and had forced the
county manager to resolve the outstanding issue in the
civil service contract in the workers' favor. We had
played a key role in a successful county commission
race, and in defeating a right-wing effort to gut
property taxes in the state. Internally, our local had
tripled the size of its staff, built an organizing
department, and fundamentally changed the way the union
was run. It had been a busy twelve months."

There are many workers in this country who desperately
need a year like that.

As Early mentions in his review, we discuss what I call
"whole worker organizing." This approach goes beyond
solidarity building between unions and "the community,"
and suggests a better approach is for unions to
understand their members are the community. This
critique is at the heart of the book. In the
Introduction, I describe what I mean by this,

"Whole-worker organizing begins with the recognition
that real people do not live two separate lives, one
beginning when they arrive at work and punch the clock
and another when they punch out at the end of their
shift. The pressing concerns that bear down on them
every day are not divided into two neat piles, only one
of which is of concern to unions. At the end of each
shift workers go home, through streets that are 
sometimes violent, past their kids' crumbling schools,
to their often substandard housing, where the tap water
is likely unsafe."

In my experience, this approach is not a distraction
that hurts the "real" focus on workplace organizing;
this approach is a key to winning.

At a time when less than 7% of the private sector
workforce--and less than 12% of the total workforce is
in a union--a whole worker organizing approach is
urgent. We have to use the base of the labor movement
we still have to quickly persuade millions of Americans
in neighborhoods nationwide that unions remain the best
hope for improving their lives. The book describes an
approach that worked with different kinds of workers
and in different states, in the private and public
sector, at the higher and lower ends of the pay scale,
workers considered hard-to-replace and those regarded
as easy to replace--and argues that there are no
shortcuts to face-to-face organizing to win back the
confidence of the members or their communities to the
purpose and promise of a good union. In Las Vegas we
set new standards, and then topped those standards with
even better contracts, and this did not come at the
cost of new organizing.

Early's review is pretty much what I expected when I
wrote the book, and I decided I would live with it
because I had a story I thought was important to tell.
I do hope, however, that the entirely predictable
criticisms that will come my way (and Early's is
certainly only the first of many) will not totally
obscure the story I tried to tell, a story I hope can
contribute to revitalizing the labor movement and
improving workers' lives.


Jane McAlevey has served as Executive Director and
Chief Negotiator for a union local, as National Deputy
Director for Strategic Campaigns of the Healthcare
Division for SEIU, and she was the Campaign Director of
the one of the only successful multi-union, multi-year,
geographic organizing campaigns for the national
AFL-CIO. She has led power structure analyses and
trainings for a wide range of union and community
organizations and has had extensive involvement in
globalization and global environmental issues. She
worked at the Highlander Research and Education Center
in her early 20's. McAlevey is currently a PhD
candidate at the City University of New York's Graduate
Center and is a contributing writer at The Nation


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