The Service Employees International Union and AFSCME, whose bitter fights over representation of home and child care workers threatened to debilitate an already-split labor movement, yesterday announced a peace agreement.
AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee said the "no-raid" pact covering organizing in California and Pennsylvania "sets a standard" for future cooperative relations between unions that remain within the AFL-CIO and the four major unions that have bolted: SEIU, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers and Unite Here. The dissident unions have formed the Change to Win Coalition.
Immediately after SEIU disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO last summer, its battle with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees over organizing home health care workers escalated sharply. Many in the labor movement expressed concern that organizing fights were likely to break out all over the country, pitting unions in the Change to Win Coalition against those in the AFL-CIO.
The new agreement lessens that threat. SEIU President Andrew L. Stern, who during the past year has exchanged harsh words with McEntee, said, "We look forward to working together with AFSCME to create better jobs and provide quality services."
McEntee said, "Even though we would scream, yell and argue a lot, we always would sit down and discuss things.
"I look forward to working with SEIU to help unorganized workers get good jobs, health care and a voice at work," he said.
Under the terms of the agreement, SEIU will come out ahead in California. Five years ago, AFSCME and SEIU agreed to split home care worker organizing rights evenly, with each union getting 29 counties. In the interim, SEIU has been much more successful winning contracts in its counties. Under the new agreement, the remaining unorganized counties, most of which had been allotted to AFSCME, will now be organized jointly by a local union backed by both SEIU and AFSCME, which will split a portion of the dues typically paid to the national union.
Officials of both unions sought to play down calculations of which union won or lost. "Who is truly ahead in California?" asked SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger. "Home care workers," she said, answering her own question.
Under the agreement, AFSCME and SEIU will together form statewide unions in both states to organize child care providers. Officials of both unions believe that an end to hostilities in Pennsylvania will encourage Democratic Gov. Edward G. Rendell to issue an executive order to make collective bargaining possible, a step he has been reluctant to take while AFSCME and SEIU have been at each other's throats.