800 Employees of Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center Leave SEIU to Join NUHW

NewsMay 10, 2011

Workers at San Francisco’s dominant private hospital reject hostile takeover of local union

SAN FRANCISCO – 800 employees at the Pacific, California and Davies hospitals of Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) system in San Francisco have left the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).  The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election ended today with a tally of 237 for SEIU to 384 for NUHW, with 11 voting for “Neither.”

“This is a truly historic event,” said Helen York-Jones, a Cashier at the California hospital of CPMC. “For over two years, we’ve waited for our chance to leave SEIU and regain control of our union with NUHW. Now, we finally have a chance to get back everything SEIU has given away to management.”

Workers organizing with NUHW triumphed despite the enormous resource advantages of the incumbent union. SEIU staffers outnumbered NUHW organizers by 10 to 1. Sutter administrators gave SEIU unlimited access to all areas of the three hospitals, even giving SEIU representatives access badges, while denying NUHW organizers permission to enter any non-public area. CPMC managers held captive audience meetings in every department on every shift, pressing workers to support SEIU. SEIU also bombarded workers with leaflets, mailers, phone calls and home visits, claiming they would lose their contract if they voted for NUHW, a claim plainly contradicted by established labor law and rejected in two recent rulings by an NLRB judge and a federal judge, respectively.

In a separate election at St. Luke’s Hospital in the Mission District, SEIU’s advantages were too large to overcome and workers voted to remain with the incumbent union by a count of 179 for SEIU to 88 for NUHW and 8 for Neither.

The election at the Pacific, California, and Davies hospitals put rank-and-file members back in control of a union they lost more than two years ago to a hostile takeover by the Washington DC officials of SEIU. SEIU placed the local union in trusteeship following a series of disputes between the national headquarters and local union leaders regarding SEIU’s insistence on making back room deals with employers that undercut workers’ wages, benefits, and working conditions, and abrogated the rights of union members.

SEIU’s Washington DC officers fired local union staff, dissolved the rank-and-file executive board, removed elected shop stewards, and installed new officials who were loyal to the national leadership. Long-time CPMC workers were among the stewards and Executive Board members who were purged by SEIU, and were among those who voted to found NUHW days later.

Within one month of the trusteeship, a majority of CPMC workers petitioned to leave the trusteed local and join NUHW. SEIU successfully delayed the election through legal objections for over two years. As CPMC workers waited for the opportunity to vote to join NUHW, SEIU allowed management to revoke the ban on subcontracting union work, weaken seniority protections, implement costly reductions to workers’ healthcare benefits, and replace across the board increases to wage rates with one-time bonuses.

SEIU also reversed local leaders’ long-standing insistence on provisions to protect healthcare access for San Francisco’s low-income residents as a condition of allowing Sutter to build a new mega-hospital on Cathedral Hill. SEIU’s contract required workers to promote Sutter’s plans to city officials “as is”, and the union made support for the project a condition of its political endorsements.

NUHW leaders fully expect SEIU to file frivolous charges with the NLRB to delay certification of the election. NUHW members at CPMC will elect stewards in every department on every shift to lead the next phase of their struggle with Sutter/CPMC and SEIU.