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SEIU-UHW vs. NUHW Trial Day 4: 'The Secret Island'

05/26/2010 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

The trial of SEIU-UHW (Service Employees International Union/United Healthcare Workers West) vs. NUHW (National Union of Healthcare Workers) brought out many hidden secrets during today's trial.

As SEIU-UHW witness Myriam Escamilla was cross-examined by NUHW Attorney Dan Siegel, she would not be distracted from the fact that the date of the "strategy planning meeting" formed by Sal Rosselli happened on April 14, 2007. Federal Court Judge William Alsup wanted to know the reason that the attorney continued to question the witness -- insisting that the date of the meeting was April 16, 2010. The fact remained, she testified, that the meeting was devised to have a strategy to secure funds outside of UHW books in case of a trusteeship, create a legal defense against the International, and was to create an outside undetectable lists of member information to be used to be used in the event of a trusteeship. The "secret meetings" were not to be discussed (per Sal Rosselli) with anyone outside of the chosen member group of approximately eight senior staff members. Ms. Escamilla explained how Sal was attempting to "build a bridge" with other locals to gain support against SEIU and find a way to "win his point."

SEIU-UHW witness and Deputy Trustee Lisa Gude did not hesitate to take the stand with confidence. She testified how upon her initial arrival to California she communicated with nursing home employers who may have been confused to clarify that SEIU's decision on jurisdiction did not change the fact that UHW members were still represented by UHW and that the employers still had to bargain with UHW. Ms. Gude stated that after the trusteeship she learned that expired contracts had been left open and not extended for both Evergreen as well as Foresight. This left workers unprotected, without any ability to arbitrate grievances, as well as without pay raises. As she attempted to obtain records for bargaining, she was able to receive some information from a colleague and limited information from employers -- but union notes, memos and other pertinent information could not be obtained. Former UHW employee Mark Kipfer (now NUHW), upon resigning his position with UHW, did not respond to a meeting notice that was sent to UHW employees upon trusteeship which informed them of requested attendance to turn over any records or property that may have been in their possession. Mr. Kipfer claimed under oath on April 2, 2009 that he was not in possession of any files or property of UHW -- and eventually SEIU trustees had to go to court to demand the files. On April 16th, Mr. Kipfer turned in six boxes of files which included the Evergreen and Foresight contracts.

Next was SEIU-UHW witness, Jackie Peppars who is a home care provider from Fresno and an SEIU-UHW member of 10 years. Her testimony explained how while attending the NUHW Launch at a church a few weeks after the trusteeship, she was given a list of SEIU-UHW member contact information and instructed by Kevin Hall (former UHW Director prior to trusteeship) to call members and ask them to resign their UHW "COPE" contributions (voluntary contribution for political action) and to turn the contributions over to the "new union's trust fund." After following instructions for about a week, Ms. Peppars stopped contacting members. She stated "it didn't feel right" as she realized that Kevin Hall was no longer a UHW employee -- but however was still in possession of UHW member contact lists. As NUHW Counsel speculated that many stewards probably had lists prior to trusteeship -- Ms. Peppars explained that past practice was to go to the union office where lists were provided to phone bank. She stopped the assignment after she had made a few calls.

SEIU-UHW Witness Jennifer Castro, Admin. Asst./UHW gave testimony explaining how "Mega Meetings" were held at three locations (San Francisco, Sacramento, and Fresno) to figure out how to fight the trusteeship. At these meetings "yellow cards" were given out to members soliciting their personal information for contact. After delivering the cards to defendant Marti Garza, she later noticed that none of the information had been entered into the UHW database. Also, she stated that she was asked by defendant John Vellardita to shred documents prior to the trusteeship so that the International could not have easy access to any information. "We are unable to re-create any of that information now" she said. Shortly after, SEIU-UHW attorneys showed a video of the Sacramento meeting where many members attended, not realizing what was actually happening "behind the scenes." They were not aware of the impact on members today as their union continues to be sabotaged by the very NUHW leaders who preach democracy to them while undermining SEIU-UHW's ability to properly communicate, represent, and care for them.

Finally -- SEIU-UHW witness: "Fearless" Leon Chow (SEIU-UHW Home Care Division Director) took the stand. Prior to trusteeship Mr. Chow was a member of a "secret group" called "Shakers and Makers". These were senior leaders who met weekly and were instructed by Sal Rosselli that no information of meeting discussions and conference calls be given to outside of the group. They discussed how to fight the trusteeship and were instructed: "Only communicate by personal e-mail and do not talk about the personal e-mail account setup. They were also instructed to build a network outside of the database with assessments of members support against SEIU, and to instruct Admin Assistants and others to not put the information into UHW databases -- but to instead give the information directly back to Mr. Chow or any member of the Shakers and Makers. Mr. Chow was told by defendant John Vellardita that "SEIU cannot fire all 400 employees, so its important that those who remain continue to support the fight against SEIU." The month before the trusteeship, the group changed their name to "The Breakfast Club" and met in person in Chinatown, S.F. They would no longer do any conference calls and had to meet in person. With this they were told by defendant John Vellardita "do not carpool from the Oakland office because we are under surveillance..."

Well these are the highlights of today's trial and there's more to come tomorrow. Chat with you soon.

Erica Boddie

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