LaborNet - Internet Board
Global online communication since 1991 for a democratic, independent labor movement
Home | Current Blog | News Archive | Video | Resources | Back Links | About LaborNet

image image

SEIU's California Member Resource Center Off Mark
Source Dan Mariscal, SEIU 347
Date 08/07/27/23:46

SEIU Local 721 unveiled its Member Resource Center (MRC) for the last few
weeks at Pasadena, California. The MRC was intended to be a technological
modernization of communications and services to SEIU members and was modeled
after a working Australian version. I had been selected by SEIU Local 347 to
be part of its beginning in early 2007 as a transitional representation
committee member along with other selected Stewards/members of merged SEIU
local unions such as Local 660 and 535. The MRC plan was introduced to us by
a Mr. Healy, from Australia, who had direct knowledge of how the Australian
version operated, but knew that our specific needs may differ. We were asked
for our input, as a committee on how best to design the MRC system and
software to fulfill our specific needs because we knew best what our needs
were, in regards to how this MRC would operate. The committee was told that
this would "free up" the business representatives (now called worksite
organizers) and would streamline the communications between the members and
"their union". On it's face this sounded like a pretty good idea.... until I
asked "the question". "Would this 'free up' the Worksite Organizers to go to
the worksites, give us more union presence and help us assist more members
in their grievances?"
The question was never really and directly answered, so a second question
was asked; "What are the Worksite Organizers going to be 'freed up' to do?".
Again, the emphasis and focus was put on the designing of the MRC. At that
point the red flags should have gone up, but the attention was, again, put
on the designing of this new "technological wonder" and all the potential
that was emphasized to us, in our committee. It wasn't until a second issue
came up about the stewards intended role, in this MRC, that more issues
cropped up. There was a lot of focus on what would be expected of stewards,
being that we're on the frontline with the co-workers. But, the issue of
what the Worksite Organizers role was not clearly defined, for some reason.
In our City of Los Angeles employees union (SEIU local 347), our Employee
Relations Ordinance permits the employees to have a "representative of
his/her choice" in grievances and disciplinary actions. When this point was
brought to the committee we were told that the members of the new local
would have to accept "who was available". Now the red flags went up.
As fate would have it our City of Los Angeles members were never happy with
this merger and some of us stewards were asked if there was anything that
could be done. The "Fight for 347" group was formed and went into action
[] and I informed 721 of
my opposition activities and was advised that I should discontinue
participation in the committee.
Fast forward to the unveiling: June 26, 2008. SEIU 721 gave a tour for
stewards of the new MRC located in Pasadena, CA. Funny, there is no name,
sign or insignia with either SEIU or Local 721 anywhere outside the
building. It's as if they were in hiding or didn't want the members to know
where the MRC was located. You even had to be "buzzed in" for entrance. When
we were Local 347 you could see through the glass door and windows and the
building was colored purple with a large sign proudly displaying the name
"SEIU LOCAL 347" and the doors were always open during business hours. Quite
a difference.
The MRC is a high tech office with a large informational screen to display
statistical information such as how many calls are coming in per hour, how
long the callers are on hold, the
time duration of the calls, the average time it takes to "handle" a call.
The individual Member Resource Organizer (MRO) has large computer terminals
that can display the callers name, the MOU of the caller and a category of
the problem or issue such as "supervisor harassment, payroll issues, denial
of overtime, etc,". The system is multi-layered and appears to be a complex
system dependent on complex technology. The director of the MRC is a very
nice gentleman by the name of Rodney Bullock and when fully staffed has
about 23 MRO's.
Now for the not so good news; The staff is employed by the International,
not the local. There are accountability issues in that kind of arrangement.
In the former Local 347, the staff was accountable to the member elected
Board. If a staff member wasn't "cutting it", the board could fire him/her
and the board also gives their ratification to his/her replacement. That's
obviously not the case now.
The MRC handles all of California, including 1021, 521, 721 and 221. In 721
alone there are 140 MOU's each with their own "past practice" issues that
none of the MRO's are privy to. The MRO's are very nice people but have not
worked in any of the unions that they "handle". They undergo 3 weeks of new
hire training before being thrown into the mix. Mr. Bullock stated that the
MRO's do make determinations as to whether or not a member has a grievable
issue, although the Director for OC/LA cities later contradicted this
statement. Although the MRC receives hundreds of calls a week, the OC/LA
Director stated that about 20% are referred to the
Advocacy Center which is under the purview of the General Counsel. The
layers of Bureaucracy are MRO, Worksite Organizer and Advocates.
There are also apparently "role" problems that still need to be worked out
with the MRC staff, which may slow the system. This current system appears
to be more technologically and statistically based. There is currently no
evidence that our Los Angeles City employees worksites are stronger or
better than before the merger from Local 347 to 721. Although the LA/OC
Director did her best to give the "work in progress" and "let's make the
best of it" speech, the changes are very noticeable. It's like waking up in
handcuffs are being told "we should still move forward". Many stewards
expressed concern that what they needed was more in the nature of worksite
presence to assist them with the difficulties they are continuing to
experience with their management inhibiting their representational
activities and the ongoing eroding of confidence in the new Local, because a
lack of presence and little, if any, display that 721 was the "bigger,
better, and stronger" union that was promised.
July 24, 2008- A follow-up meeting in Pasadena with stewards on ways to
make the MRC work.
Input was asked on what kind of statistical information would be of the most
assistance to the stewards. It was generally acknowledged that some of this
statistical information would be of use "somewhere down the road", but what
was needed most was the presence of worksite organizers to boost the
stewards power and effectiveness at the individual worksites and offices in
dealing with obstructive and uncooperative employer managers. The members
and co-workers were losing confidence in the union at an alarming rate and
the stewards were now being regarded as a mere nuisance to supervisors. One
steward complained that her phone number was given out to members by the MRC
to handle their members work issues without telling her, and she angrily
denounced 721 for "dumping" people on her in that manner. Apparently, the
MRC is "hunting and fishing" for stewards help. How could this be?
It was revealed at this meeting that 721 has approximately 80,000 members
and between 50-60 worksite organizers. That doesn't bode well for stewards
who need the worksite presence of union staff at their worksites just to
survive as functioning representatives. Judging from the comments by the
stewards, the MRC is not helping them with what they really need. But 721's
staff just seemed to want to focus on how to make the MRC work. The stewards
were adamant about their needs and reiterated that statistical information
and technology is some later point in time. Unless they get
back-up now (as in immediately), the membership will lose confidence in the
union and no technology is going to help get that back, once its gone. They
need real union presence, not some union "flunky" with their hand out for
COPE money.
It was obvious that stewards were frustrated over 721's disconnect with the
realities of the worksite. The lesson here is that there is no substitute
for visible paid union representatives shaking hands with members and
standing next to stewards when confronting management. Answering, questions
and recruiting. Organizing chapters, setting up Joint Labor-Management
Committees, updating union bulletin boards, informing employees of the next
general membership meeting and extolling the benefits of union
representation, passing out copies of the employees contract or MOU's,
T-shirts and buttons, making themselves available and accessible and most of
all, showing and demonstrating to the members that their dues money is being
used on the issues that matter most to them. The MRC has not accomplished
any of this because their forte is gathering statistical information, which
I'm sure at some point is going to be useful......down the road.
If the MRC was meant to replace business representatives, we are in for a
big let down. Expecting the stewards to shoulder the burden of
representation and not giving them the physical back-up that they sorely
need, is leading us to disaster. In this regard the MRC is plainly and the mark.
Dan Mariscal, Steward

[View the list]