Monday, January 4, 2010

A Strange Tale From The Great Northwest

It seems that the decert bug that is so troubling SEIU is beginning to spread outside of Hotel California, and has now invaded a branch of SEIU 1199NW, covering Kitsap Mental Health Services in Bremerton, Washington...

Labor representatives have sent a memo to top legislators accusing Kitsap Mental Health Services management of union-busting and misusing state-appropriated funds to do it.

KMHS Executive Director Joe Roszak calls the accusations from Jonathan Rosenblum and Ellie Menzies of the Service Employees International Union “without merit.”

The SEIU represents more than 200 people who work at the county’s only public mental health agency in a wide range of capacities, including therapists, office workers and janitors. SEIU Healthcare 1199NW has been the only union at KMHS.

In the Dec. 18 memo to legislators, Rosenblum, the union’s assistant to the president, and Menzies, its legislative director, alleged that KMHS management used a “hostile” approach last spring in its dealings with the union that involved delays, demands for large concessions and failure to keep union representatives in the loop.

Pretty straightforward they-said, they-said stuff - but here's where it gets strange...

Management encouraged workers to drop out of the union in the fall, according to the memo. Rosenblum and Menzies alleged management offered each employee a $1,000 bonus as an inducement.

The union representatives also alleged that the $1,000 bonuses were a misuse of state funds and suggested a state investigation.

Rochelle Doan, spokeswoman for KMHS, had no comment Monday on the alleged $1,000 bonuses.

The union memo also suggested that KMHS management instigated a petition-gathering campaign to decertify the union. That petition, however, apparently got signatures from a majority of workers. It was submitted to management Dec. 11.

Doan suggested the petition came from below, not above.

“This was a choice of the staff. That’s the bottom line,” she said.

What? Management offering $1K bonuses to quit the union? Certainly there must be more to the story, and that is provided in this follow-up piece by the same author, a day later...

The National Labor Relations Board may ultimately decide whether workers at Kitsap Mental Health Services still are represented by the Service Employees International Union.

While one employee said there is some division among staff over the current status of the SEIU, many said Tuesday they want no part of it. The union has represented KMHS employees since about 1991 under two locals, including the present one, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.

SEIU leaders recently sent a letter to high-ranking legislators accusing KMHS of union-busting and misuse of state-appropriated funds. A day after that news was published in the Kitsap Sun, KMHS employees gave their perspectives on the story.

Some employees aren’t ruling out other union representation in the future.

“I felt like the union wanted me to believe that the management was bad and that I needed the protection of the union,” said therapist David Secrest. “I want a union that communicates and works with management without an adversarial relationship.”

Said clerk Jackie Fitzgerald, “I think we can do this ourselves.”

Agreed Tina D’Astoli, an office coordinator, “We’re going with no union ... We can always bring in another union; we could even be our own guild.

“It was anything but SEIU.”

That above quote, as well as the other quotes from the employees, have a seriously familiar ring to them, no?

The trouble started last spring.

A two-year contract covering about 200 employees was to expire March 31. Negotiations between management and the union weren’t going well.

“There was a distrust on both sides that was caustic,” D’Astoli said.

One of the issues taken up during bargaining appeared to break the camel’s back. An earlier dispute between the union and management over a state-authorized 1.4 percent pay hike that never materialized had been taken to arbitration. Management won, representatives for both sides said.

But the union resurrected the issue at the bargaining table, which D’Astoli said somehow widened the gap not only between the union and management, but the union and employees it represented.

Negotiations continued over many months.

In November, management came up with a proposal that included maintaining health-insurance premiums for one year before raising them modestly the second year; and wage increases held until July, when a 3 percent increase would begin to take effect.

It also called for a one-time $1,000 lump-sum payment for each employee, but it did not contain the 1.4 percent pay increase, according to D’Astoli.

And so we see the rationale for the $1K bonus that SEIU was so torqued off about in the first article.

What is also clear is that the rank-and-file and the SEIU officials bargaining on their behalf were undergoing a serious failure to communicate.

Workers said the union never brought the contract to them for a vote. D’Astoli said the union was sore about the 1.4 percent increase, that the management proposal didn’t include a provision to get Veterans Day off and there was no provision for a closed union shop.

Union representatives could not be reached Tuesday.

KMHS Executive Director Joe Roszak was reluctant to talk Tuesday, due to the pending charge of unfair labor practices recently brought by the union to the NLRB.

Relations between some staffers and the union apparently continued to sour, with the members believing the union was too aggressive.

In early December, D’Astoli began a petition calling on management to withdraw recognition of the union. She said it was signed by 55 percent of workers covered by the previous union contract.

Regarding union allegations that management coerced staffers to sign the petition, D’Astoli and many other staffers told the Kitsap Sun that wasn’t the case.

“This was of my own volition,” D’Astoli said.

She and the staffers also said management did not use $1,000 payments it had offered as a carrot to get them to decertify.

The petition was delivered to management Dec. 11. After that, management distributed the $1,000 payments, workers said.

Meanwhile, Roszak and Tom Hyde, KMHS board president, have been trying to neutralize any impact from a memo written by union leadership on Dec. 18 to legislators alleging unfair labor practices and illegal use of government funds for the $1,000 bonuses.

On Dec. 23, they wrote their own.

“There has been absolutely no misuse of Medicaid and/or NonMedicaid dollars by KMHS, and we have not used these or any other dollars to engage in ‘union-busting’ activities,” it stated.

As for the $1,000 payments, they wrote, “KMHS does not provide staff ‘bonuses’ or did KMHS provide staff a $1,000 ‘bonus’ as an inducement to decertify the union.”

For now, workers appear to have put a certain level of trust in management, even without a contract.

“I have no problems trusting what management was doing,” D’Astoli said.

Wow. Those SEIU 1199NW members are being placed on-record as trusting management over their union "representatives."

I have to confess that the $1K lump sum bonus or payout or however you want to phrase it looks fishy, but you have to wonder what the people at 1199NW are thinking in allowing such a disconnect to occur in the first place.

The comment threads in both articles are actually pretty good, and have input from multiple employees of KMHS, some who signed the decert and some who did not - and both sides seem to be able to maintain some amount of mutual respect for each other, but very little respect for Andy's Army.

It is apparent that these folks probably would like union representation, and that NUHW quite conceivably could be a good fit for them once Team Red gets away from all the red tape and NLRB hassles that are under way right now.

Still and all, decert petitions and wanting to get out of SEIU are not limited to Hotel California, and SEIU would be wise to pay closer attention to proplerly serving the people it has now, rather than focusing so much attention on keeping captive people who have expressed the clear desire to leave SEIU's clutches.

1 comment:

  1. Well, clearly workers across the country are beginning to realize that SEIU is a do-nothing union that does not communicate with its members. I agree that it's very interesting that workers would have more trust and confidence in management than they do in SEIU.

    Once NUHW gets over the hurdle, i.e., SEIU's phony blocking charges with the NLRB, I strongly believe that NUHW will be the major union that represents home and health care workers in California and will eventually be able to compete with SEIU nationwide.




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