SEIU wins in expensive battle for Kaiser workers, rival appeals

by on October 12, 2010 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Health, Labor, Organizing

Kaiser hosp unk locEditor: After spending millions and bringing in hundreds of its union employees to work on the campaign, SEIU International won a battle for Kaiser medical workers against an insurgent rival union that had deep roots in the Kaiser facilities.  The campaign included some Kaiser employees here in San Diego.

It was touted as the largest union election in the private section since the Depression. The rival – National Union of Healthcare Workers – is filing an appeal.  And right on the heels of the election, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that Kaiser must pay over a million dollars in withheld raises to supporters of the the rival union.  It has been a nasty campaign and this ruling displays possible collusion between Kaiser and SEIU against the upstart union – but doesn’t seem like it’s over yet …..

By David Moberg / In These Times / Originally published Oct 8, 2010

One union came out on top this week at California’s Kaiser Permanente facilities.

In a much-anticipated showdown over the future of healthcare unionism in California, a substantial plurality of the 43,000 members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers-West at Kaiser Permanente facilities have voted to remain with the Service Employees union rather than join with the rival National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

The mail-in ballot tally announced Thursday evening was 18,290 for SEIU-UHW, 11,364 for NUHW, and 365 for no union.

kaiser election boxThe vote is a major setback for NUHW, whose leaders had deep roots in the local, since Kaiser workers are such a large, influential bloc in the union. But NUHW quickly announced it would challenge the election results, in part on grounds that Kaiser management had unlawfully aided SEIU. In August, NUHW filed a federal lawsuit to stop any Kaiser managerial help to SEIU. SEIU, which has now overwhelmingly retained most UHW members where there had been challenges, called on NUHW not to pursue “frivolous” challenges. Over the weekend, NUHW supporters plan to meet to discuss strategy.

Former officers and members of UHW, led by former president Sal Rosselli, formed NUHW in January 2009 after SEIU put the 150,000-member local in trusteeship. The takeover grew out of a deepening conflict between Rosselli–for many years an independent-minded leader who organized effectively, negotiated strong contracts, won political influence for the local and encouraged union democracy–and then-SEIU president Andy Stern over union strategy and democratic procedures and culture.

SEIU charged Rosselli with serious financial malfeasance, but a federal court found only that NUHW officers had used some of their final weeks in office planning for NUHW and ordered repayment of $1.57 million.

kaiser seiu-nuhw logoSEIU spokespersons questioned whether NUHW, with few members and shaky finances, could continue. Sympathizers from other unions, including such iconic figures as United Farmworkers co-founder Dolores Huerta and Steelworkers insurgent Ed Sadlowski, supported NUHW, but the fledgling union lost critical aid when the California Nurses Association and then UNITE HERE settled conflicts with SEIU, with conditions that they cease helping NUHW.

NUHW complains that SEIU delayed the balloting, then used a misleading campaign promoting fear that workers would lose all their contract gains if they voted for NUHW. It argues also that management both provided assistance to SEIU and adopted illegal policies, such as withholding raises due to workers, that gave credibility to SEIU allegations, even though the National Labor Relations Board overruled Kaiser’s actions.

In a press release, NUHW said,

Kaiser dolores huerta 1965

A 1965 photo of Dolores Huerta during the farmworkers' struggle. Huerta came out in support of the rival NUHW in this election.

In April, Kaiser began illegally withholding raises from workers who had already joined NUHW, while SEIU sent hundreds of thousands of mailers, leaflets, and robocalls to other Kaiser employees, threatening that they, too, would lose their raises and other benefits if they joined NUHW.

NUHW members filed charges, but the labor board took no effective action until six months later—after the ballots were already in. Just hours after voting ended, the NLRB exposed SEIU’s scare tactic as a lie, when they filed for an order forcing Kaiser to repay more than $1 million in raises to NUHW members.

Despite SEIU’s victory in this largest round of Kaiser voting and NUHW’s vulnerabilities, it seems that the challenger remains in the ring, ready to continue the fight.

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