Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Here Comes The Flood

All of a sudden, all sorts of people are reporting on the Great California Union Foodfight.

First up is Labor Notes, who gives a pretty bare-bone rundown of the Santa Rosa issue, but then gets in some good jabs at Zombie UHW in reference to their "representation" of Kaiser employees...

NUHW supporters are preparing for an election at Kaiser next month. Three bargaining units in Southern California, including nurses at Kaiser’s Los Angeles Medical Center complex and psychiatrists, therapists, social workers, dieticians, speech pathologists, and other professionals at 100 facilities across the region, will choose between SEIU and NUHW. Nurses will vote on-site January 6 and 7, with ballots mailed to the 1,300 other professionals on January 4. Votes will be counted January 26.

Jim Clifford, a therapist at a clinic in Otay, says SEIU’s removal of elected stewards and worksite leaders left members hamstrung, whether trying to stand up to unfair discipline or to share Kaiser’s use of electronic medical records.

“At the start of the trusteeship we couldn’t figure out what phone number to dial to get an SEIU staff representative who could work with us,” he said. “We’ve got grievances from January going nowhere.”
David Mallon, a psychiatric social worker at the Bellflower medical center, said, “Kaiser is running amok. They have shut down the performance sharing bonus program, we aren’t participating in program development anymore, and now there is incredible pressure to increase workloads.

“How are you going squeeze more time in today to see patients and still do the documentation, which has become more and more detailed?”

Cuts to the Kaiser pension plan have also sparked member dissatisfaction. Earlier this year SEIU, along with other Kaiser unions, agreed to cut lump-sum pensions by as much as 15 percent starting December 1. The cuts were a response to the sagging stock market, but there are no plans yet to restore pensions in light of the stock market rebound or Kaiser’s $1.6 billion profit in the nine months of 2009. More than three-quarters of Kaiser retirees take the lump-sum pension.

Meanwhile SEIU says it will block the professional staff from participating in the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions if they vote to join NUHW. The coalition was created to coordinate bargaining with Kaiser as well as oversee union participation in Kaiser’s labor-management partnership.


Since its narrow loss to SEIU in a homecare workers’ election in June, NUHW has made strides recruiting allies. The strong showing in Fresno convinced many outside California of NUHW’s viability.

At the same time, SEIU’s escalating battle with the hotel union UNITE HERE has pushed NUHW and UNITE HERE closer together.

UNITE HERE locals in California dispatched organizers to the Fresno campaign, provided office space and material aid, and assembled nearly two dozen Cantonese-speaking lost-time member-organizers to assist NUHW’s San Francisco homecare drive this summer. More recently, UNITE HERE sent organizers to help in Santa Rosa.

In retaliation, the trustees running UHW threatened to withdraw the 150,000-member local from the San Francisco Labor Council, which is headed by a UNITE HERE local president. That threat united many Bay Area labor leaders behind UNITE HERE and NUHW.

This fall the North Bay Central Labor Council also lined up with NUHW in its drive at Santa Rosa. The council asked SEIU to withdraw from the election since “it is clear that Memorial workers have chosen NUHW as their union.”

SEIU has also pushed unions in Southern California closer to NUHW, most notably by attacking a November 17 public forum held at the United Teachers-Los Angeles hall. Attendees were pelted with water bottles and eggs by SEIU staff and members protesting the event.



Looming large in 2010 is the Kaiser Permanente health system, representing a third of UHW’s membership and a standard-setter for union hospitals across California. NUHW looks to capitalize on SEIU’s acceptance of unprecedented mid-contract concessions. Trustees agreed to 1,300 layoffs in August, despite a no-layoffs clause in the contract. Kept from a vote over the job cuts, Kaiser workers are fuming.

“They are making a circus of our contract,” said Cindy Benko, a 19-year pharmacy tech in Stockton. “They don’t know which end is up. Kaiser should be paying them union dues, not the members, because that is who SEIU is working for.”

Benko thinks the loss of workplace control under the trusteeship is swinging support to NUHW.

“Most people wanted to believe it was just the leaders who changed, that it would still be the same union,” she said. “But no one can deny the damage SEIU has done. This is what our future looks like if we don’t get our union back.”

Also getting into the act are Bill Fletcher and (finally) Nelson Lichtenstein in an article in In These Times entitled "SEIU's Civil War." It's a pretty lengthy expose of Our Glorious Maximum Leader's rise and (probable) fall in the U.S. Labor movement, and views SEIU as more of a Cult of Personality rather than a functional, dynamic, representational union...

Assessing what to make of NUHW and its potential is, at this time, a matter for speculation. Despite having pitifully few resources, the new union is capable of winning. In the NUHW’s key jurisdictions, particularly Kaiser Permanente, it is quite conceivable that they will overwhelm the SEIU’s imported and maladroit leadership.

This is true for at least three reasons. One, the former UHW has a very capable steward’s system and member involvement at Kaiser. Two, the trusteeship is an affront to thousands of staunch unionists and their allies in California where NUHW has won the backing of some prominent liberal politicians and many key unions, including San Francisco’s big hotel local.

Three, many among the SEIU staff, imported to California or back in the East and Midwest, are demoralized and do not see NUHW as a true enemy. Thus, if the NUHW can win just a few NLRB certification elections and restart the dues flow, then it will have sufficient resources to hire key staff, “organize” among a wider group of workers, and prevail in California over the still alien group of leaders imported into the state by SEIU. Recent NUHW victories at Los Alamitos Medical Center in Southern California and at an assisted living facility in the Portola Valley indicate that this strategy may be working. There is no reason, short of resources, that NUHW cannot prevail, irrespective of whether they choose to return to a reformed SEIU.

Translation: Tide...turning.

Next up is an article in the E-zine for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, "Catholic San Francisco", which looks at labor relations in Catholic hospitals through the lens of the six-year fight at SRMH which is about to come to a head tomorrow...
The Santa Rosa Memorial campaign achieved one of its long-term goals when, in 2008, the St. Joseph Health System agreed to discuss election ground rules, according to NUHW. That October, union organizers at the hospital began gathering workers’ signatures in support of an election. By January, they had enough names to put the question of unionization to a vote.

However, in late January the effort was set back when the SEIU placed the West Coast organization in trusteeship. That action, and the SEIU’s later intervention in the election sought by the new union, halted the progress that workers had been making toward negotiating ground rules, Timberlake said.

“The irony of the whole thing is the employer said they would not sit down with us,” Timberlake said. “They would only discuss ground rules with both unions.”

The employer had agreed to negotiate guidelines with any union that showed it had standing to represent employees.

“There were two unions that demonstrated a show of standing,” Kevin Andrus, a spokesman for the St. Joseph Health System, said. “We agreed that we would sit down with both of those unions and work out guidelines between the three of us. The SEIU refused to meet with us and the NUHW and thus we were not able to negotiate.”

As always, read the rest.


  1. Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital workers have the opportunity today to finally have a chance to vote for the union of their choice. Don't let the non-union SEIU steal this once-in-a-lifetime chance to join a union that will never abandon you and will fight for the best possible contract and benefits.

    Don't be fooled by SEIU's phony propaganda and their display of bravado and wealth, wealth that they have extorted from dues paying members. Dues paying SEIU members have very little to show for the exorbitant dues that members are forced to pay. Wages have gone down. Benefits that were once the flagship in the labor movement are now a thing of the past. Members are being forced in many worksites to buy their own medical insurance. And just try to file a grievance. You have to speak by phone to someone across the country who has no idea as to your particular problem or worksite situation.


  2. Thanks to Andy Stern's outstanding organizing skills, he has managed to unite almost the entire labor movement against him and his oligarchy. Now that is true talent! lol


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