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Privatizaton Of The Schools And The SEIU In St. Louis
by a St. Louis Labor Activist

THE ROOT OF THE problem with the SEIU here is that they placed their relationships with politicians ahead of serving their members.

The state council here used to be headed up by Grant Williams, a former ACORN organizer who got into the SEIU by way of ACORN's SEIU local and rose to become an international vice president. His strategy was to campaign heavily for certain Democratic politicians and rely on them to hand him members. In 2000 he backed Bob Holden, who won the race for governor. One of Holden's first acts was to sign an executive order granting the SEIU the right to have agency fees automatically deducted from the checks of state workers. After that, Williams had to keep backing Holden's camp in order to defend the executive order. Williams also tied SEIU to Missouri Pro-Vote, a "progressive" Democratic Party organization run by his brother-in-law.

In 2002, the Democratic mayor of St. Louis, a Holden backer, decided to take over the school board. The four people he selected where very clear they would privatize many of the jobs, but the state SEIU backed them anyway, even though the local union claimed to have only one concern: privatization.

After the election, there was a movement to have all the unions stand together (AFT, SEIU, and various building trades unions) to combat privatization plans and demands for concessions. The SEIU broke ranks first (and over the opposition of many of its members), offering to agree to a $3/hr cut in custodians' wages, cuts in jobs, cuts in health insurance and pension benefits, and privatization of food service workers, in returning for keeping the remaining custodians on the school board's payroll.

Public employees don't have the right to strike in Missouri (technically they don't even have the right to bargain). The logical stance for the union should have been 'no concessions, privatize our jobs and we'll strike.'

The board took the SEIU's offer, then tried to privatize all the building trades jobs. The stationary engineers went on strike for two days and won a 5-year agreement to keep their jobs.

The SEIU folds the custodian's local into the local run by Grant Williams (Local 2000), who calls a meeting of the custodians to tell them that if any of them try to fight to keep their jobs in the school system, they will not get any support from the union.

2004, Williams loses big on his political gamble. Despite working full time to get Holden re-elected, his candidate loses in the primary. Miffed, Holden's supporters withhold support from the Democratic candidate and an extremely conservative Republican takes the governor's mansion. One of his first acts is to cancel the executive order allow unions to collect agency fees from state workers. The SEIU then reassigns Williams to a position in England.

2005, the school board decides to break its agreements with the SEIU and the stationary engineers (OEIU). SEIU caves first, agreeing to outsource their jobs, reduce the school board's pension contributions, and agreeing not to strike. The stationary engineers are then privatized without an agreement. They are campaigning to get their jobs back. The state SEIU wants to back more of the mayor's candidates for school board, but the membership objects. The union ends up staying neutral.

A new leadership has emerged in SEIU Local 2000 since then, and they've repudiated acts of the past leadership. The president is someone who rose from the ranks, the new public employees director is a former activist from New Directions in the UAW. The state political director, however, is a holdover from Williams' team.

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