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SEIU 668 has failed my shop for years, and we need a new union 

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By Jayme  Hollenbach 

I have been a state employee for 18 years. Since 2009, I’ve worked at a Berks County state hospital represented by SEIU 668. For that entire time, I and my co-workers have watched our contracts get worse  and our union leaders  lie and  brush off rank-and-file concerns.  

As  a former shop steward, I know we need a union. I’ve just lost hope that SEIU 668 can make things better.  Our last three contracts have seen pay that barely keeps pace with inflation, increasing  employee  health and dental costs, and less sick time and holidays. State  employment  used to have better pay and benefits, but SEIU 668 has attacked every part of our jobs.  

Jayme Hollenbach

Our SEIU 668 business agent, who is our main liaison to the state-level union and to our management, has basically been AWOL.  This agent gets paid more than $80,000 a  year, but  can’t even answer the  basic  question of whether our shop—consisting of both SEIU rank-and-file members and supervisors—constitutes  of one or two bargaining units. She has lied about filing and following through on employee grievances, and often takes  managers’ side  in disputes, arguing that they are just “misunderstood.”  

In fact, we barely even see our business agent. She lives an hour away from our workplace and  is supposed to represent other  shops in the region. But  if she has 20 work days in a month, and we see her just for 1, what the heck does she do for the other 19 days? 

In frustration at the lack of responsiveness of our business agent, I and a group of SEIU members from my shop tried to reach higher-ranking union leaders. In  July  2018, I emailed state union president Steve  Catanese  about getting better service from the union. I was  happy he responded. He  said he’d look into the issue straight away  and ensure our shop got a “productive” outcome. But when he wrote back  again, I  was quickly disappointed.  Catanese  merely pointed out that we had a scheduled meeting with our  unhelpful  business agent, which had already been on the calendar for months and continued to be pushed back.  

That  September  2018 meeting  with the business agent was the first one we’d had in years. (You read that right—I said “years.”) I learned from the SEIU 668’s  Chapter 9  chairman that our shop had been approved for three meals, but this was the only one we’ve  had, and it consisted of lousy $2-subs from the grocery store for  45  people.  In the meantime, the chairman has no problem approving $600 meals for  his  chapter-level meetings.  

Our business agent keeps saying we need to “step up” and put a new shop steward in place—we haven’t had one for a long time, and it means our shop gets no vote at regional meetings. But she fails to understand that it’s her role to help train and equip a shop steward, because  such  SEIU 668 training happens only twice a year.  Right now, she’s our first line of defense against an untrustworthy management, and she’s failing. 

Even after all this, my  colleagues and I  didn’t give up. Late last year, we managed to corner Steve  Catanese  at a union social and persuaded  him to meet with us. Unfortunately, that meeting was as disappointing as every other interaction we’ve had with SEIU.  Throughout, I felt he was full of empty promises and fake smiles.  For example, we  questioned  him on SEIU’s famed “Fight for $15.”

“Of course  we’re fighting for an increase to minimum wage,”  Catanese  responded. We then  pointed  out that raising the minimum wage  would  lower everyone else’s  salary, and asked if all types of employees were  to expect comparable raises across the board. 

“Well, yeah,  we’re fighting for it, but it’s never going to actually happen,” Catanese said.  Personally,  I found  his words and the SEIU’s cynical position  sickening.  

Not only  are  Catanese  and the union putting on a show with a  supposedly  unwinnable fight, but he’s also talking out  of  both sides of his mouth.  The  union  is  spending money on a fight  it has  no expectation of winning. This is who leads us? This is who  we  we’re sending to contract negotiations? This is who we’re supposed  to trust?  

Many of us have come to the conclusion  that SEIU  is no longer a union. It’s more of a collection agency.  It’s a  money racket forcing people into increasingly  less desirable contracts  while telling workers,  “We fought hard, be happy with this.” 

As a final resort, I recently started commenting heavily on SEIU 668’s Facebook page. I kept asking uncomfortable questions about the quality of our  representation.  However,  the  social media  admins and union leaders  still  ignored  me, and ended  up booting me off their page. Plus, such  groups  are littered  with  union shills—folks who are so  brainwashed,  they  argue  and tell  people like me that  we  are just  not  “union strong.” 

Make no mistake: I definitely want a union.  I want a business agent who isn’t afraid to call in the union’s attorney if it should come to that.  I want the union to fight for a legitimate contract for its members, instead  of focusing on  SEIU’s COPE political action committee  and  gaining  social media brownie points with homeless food drives and  “Purple Tuesdays.”  

What I want is  the  union representation I’m paying  $750 a year for.  I’m thoroughly convinced that SEIU is beyond broken.  Now I and dozens of my co-workers want to get rid of the SEIU and create our own union. The only problem is, we know the SEIU is entrenched in our shop. It’s not going to be easy getting the new representation we need, but we haven’t given up fighting yet. 

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