Union members today picketed an event at which their boss was being honored - accusing her of union-busting and anti-worker policies in connection with layoffs and contract talks at their workplace.
Nothing unusual about union pickets - except that the boss, Anna Burger, is one of the nation's top labor leaders, and a key executive in one of its fastest growing unions, the Service Employees International Union, the SEIU.
"Anna Burger is a hypocrite," said Malcolm Harris, president of the Union of Union Representatives, which represents 210 employees of the SEIU. Harris said 75 of the 210 are scheduled to be laid off.
Burger, secretary-treasurer of the 1.7-million-member SEIU, was being honored in South Philadelphia at the annual dinner of the Peggy Browning Fund.
The fund, a nonprofit corporation established in memory of Philadelphia labor lawyer Margaret A. Browning, provides fellowships to law students interested in working in labor law. Browning, a Clinton appointee to the National Labor Relations Board, died in 1997.
Burger also heads Change To Win, the labor federation that split from the AFL-CIO in 2005. President Obama appointed her to his White House Economic Recovery Task Force. Burger began her union career in Philadelphia.
Harris' union represents 210 SEIU union organizers who live around the United States, but are dispatched from the SEIU's national headquarters in Washington.
"We can't tolerate this because we are organizers ourselves," said Harris, leading six protesters. He said the SEIU was asking corporations to stop the layoffs, but it was laying off its own staffers.
He said members were not given proper layoff notice as their contract requires.
And, he said, they are being laid off even as there is increased demand for their work to help pass the proposed federal Employee Free Choice Act, a law that would make it easier for unions to represent workers.
The SEIU has also cut about 50 other workers, including 19 represented by another union.
Burger said in an interview today that organizing work on the legislation should be done on the local union level, not on the national level. She said that there were 80 openings in locals around the country, but that she could not guarantee the laid-off workers would get those jobs.
Burger said the complaints from Harris' union were actually an effort to garner publicity as the union and SEIU move into contract talks.
"The nerve," Harris reacted angrily. He said that in the past, the SEIU had paid for union-bargaining committee members to travel to Washington for contract negotiations. This time, the SEIU refused.
"That's a union-busting tactic," he said.
In other news today, the SEIU announced a new partnership with the California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee. They are affiliated with the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, which represents 5,000 hospital staffers, including Temple University Hospital workers.