Bureau of National Affairs: NUHW Affiliates With California Nurses To Jointly Fight Kaiser, Sutter, and SEIU-UHW

NUHW In the NewsJanuary 5, 2013

NUHW Affiliates With California Nurses
To Jointly Fight Kaiser, Sutter, and SEIU-UHW

By Joyce E. Cutler, Bureau of National Affairs

SAN FRANCISCO—The independent National Union of Healthcare Workers has affiliated with the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United with the goal of restoring worker and patient safety standards, the unions announced Jan. 3.

Speakers at a news conference at CNA headquarters in Oakland, Calif., to announce the affiliation, said the two unions have common enemies—United Healthcare Workers West, a local of the Service Employees International Union; Kaiser Permanente; and Sutter Health.

“This is a significant affiliation that should send an unmistakable message to California’s hospital industry,” CNA President Deborah Burger said at the press conference. “California’s RNs now joined by other health care hospital workers will not accept the outrageous and unwarranted attacks on patient care protections and our own contract standards, conditions, and our livelihood.”

The 10,000-member NUHW joins with the 85,000-member CNA as an official thorn in the side of hospital managers and the industry.

“We’re pooling our power to stand up to the [California] Hospital Association and their members like Sutter and Kaiser and in Sacramento to stand up to the Hospital Association’s attempts to weaken the nurse-to-patient ratios,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli told BNA.

According to the affiliation agreement, which was approved by NUHW members Jan. 2, NUHW will become an autonomous affiliate of CNA with separate governance and internal structure. It will begin paying per capita payments to CNA of $5.00 per member per month starting July 1. That amount rises to $10 per member per month in July 2014 until “loans and other financial obligations” to CNA are repaid, according to a copy of the affiliation agreement.

Kaiser and California Hospital Association representatives could not be reached for comment.

Affiliation Is ‘Reincarnation.’

Burger called the formal affiliation a “reincarnation” after the unions worked together for decades.

SEIU Local 250, the predecessor to SEIU-UHW, and CNA went on a nearly two-month strike in 1992 after Summit Hospital refused to agree to contract provisions allowing unions to respect other unions’ strikes and picket lines. Both Local 250, which Rosselli headed, and CNA were criticized by their then national unions over the solidarity, but they ultimately won the strike, he said.

“I’m reminded of that today because I feel like we’re in that same place,” Rosselli said. In the 1990s and first decade of this century, the two unions closely worked to improve standards, including winning defined benefits and full family coverage, “and perhaps most importantly, a real voice in determining staffing levels to protect patients, to determine how care is given,” Rosselli said.

Importance Downplayed

SEIU spokesman Steve Trossman said the affiliation is “really not anything particularly significant.”

“It really is just a loan repayment plan masquerading as a merger,” Trossman said, pointing to a $2 million loan CNA made to NUHW.

NUHW has gone almost three years without being able to negotiate a contract with Kaiser while Southern California members lost out on 9 percent raises SEIU members received, Trossman said.

“And to us it’s clear admission that NUHW on its own doesn’t have the power and skill to negotiate a contract at Kaiser,” Trossman told BNA.

SEIU-UHW’s agreement with CNA expired at the end of 2012, Trossman said. “That’s why this is being announced now.”

Trossman was referring to a partnership agreement reached in 2009 between CNA and the international SEIU in which they agreed to jointly organize and bargain with common employers (52 DLR A-1, 3/20/09). Under that agreement, CNA was not able to help NUHW in any way that would oppose UHW.

NUHW, which represents some 4,000 Kaiser workers throughout California, has been in negotiations for first contracts for workers in Northern California for more than a year and Southern California workers for more than two years. NUHW won representation for these workers in 2010, ousting SEIU-UHW (218 DLR A-1, 11/12/10).

NUHW Secretary-Treasurer John Borsos told BNA the union has not won contracts with Kaiser because it will not agree to the concessionary contracts SEIU agreed to with Kaiser.

“The difference between this and traditional union campaigns is you have a company union that has the full support of the employer,” Borsos said.

In a Jan. 3 statement, Kaiser spokesman John Nelson told BNA, “for more than two years, Kaiser Permanente has been bargaining fairly and in good faith with the NUHW. We believe our proposals will ensure that Kaiser Permanente employees who are represented by NUHW will continue to receive highly desirable, market-leading salary and benefits, including health care coverage and a generous retirement package. However, instead of focusing on the issues to be resolved in bargaining, NUHW has made inaccurate and misleading allegations about Kaiser Permanente.”

Restoring Contracts, Worker Voices

NUHW was formed one day after SEIU placed the 150,000-member UHW local into trusteeship and ousted its former leaders (17 DLR A-17, 1/29/09).

Contracts bargained in the last four years since SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan took over “have resulted in huge takeaways for workers and patients, elimination of defined benefit plans, elimination of family health coverage, elimination of a voice, disempowering health care workers to stand up to their employers through their formal partnerships like they have with Kaiser Permanente, and Sutter Health and virtually everyone else,” Rosselli said.

In a taste of things to come, Rosselli said, “this is an affiliation whose time has come. It’s time for us to join together and to reverse that trend that Dave Regan and SEIU-UHW has established and win back the standards for health care workers and our patients, and then to give the 9 million hospital workers across this country an opportunity to join this movement.”

CNA to Help With Kaiser Election

NUHW is facing a rerun election later this year against UHW for representation of some 43,000 workers.

CNA has “huge resources they are going to bring to level the playing field to help us win the election,” Rosselli told BNA.

In a 2010 mail ballot election, Kaiser employees throughout California voted to remain with the incumbent SEIU-UHW, rejecting NUHW (195 DLR AA-1, 10/8/10). In July 2011, an NLRB administrative law judge, finding election interference by SEIU-UHW, recommended that a new election be conducted (138 DLR AA-1, 7/19/11) and NLRB in August 2011 ordered that a new election be held (155 DLR AA-1, 8/11/11).

That election as yet to be scheduled by the NLRB is expected the first half of the year, NUHW’s Borsos said.

As for the upcoming election, Kaiser’s Nelson said, “As we have said from the beginning, Kaiser Permanente remains supportive of our employees’ choice in this matter, and is entirely neutral in the dispute between NUHW and SEIU-UHW. We have not inappropriately supported or assisted either union, nor will we do so in the future. We respect the rights of our employees to choose whether they want to be represented by a union and, if so, which union will represent them.”

CNA/NNU, which represents some 18,000 registered nurses at Kaiser facilities in California, reached agreement on a new contract in February 2011, six months before its contract was due to expire. That agreement did not contain any concessions, although CNA expressed concern that concessions will be sought when the contract expires in December 2014.

NUHW Previously Sought to Affiliate With IAM

The upcoming Kaiser election was partially the reason last February NUHW signed a letter of intent with the International Association of Machinists to pursue a possible future affiliation between the two unions (34 DLR A-3, 2/21/12).

At the time, Rosselli said the NUHW executive board had authorized the officers to seek a partnership with an AFL-CIO-affiliated union that puts a “high value on member democracy, on fights for and protecting workers’ standards, and on organizing the unorganized.” NUHW also was looking for a partner that would provide substantial resources to help it win its battle against SEIU at Kaiser.

IAM spokesman Frank Larkin Jan. 3 declined to comment on why the two unions were never able to agree to a formal affiliation. He told BNA, however, that IAM will “continue to have a relationship with NUHW, and support their efforts to conclude a successful affiliation.”

Zenei Cortez, a CNA co-president and chair of the joint bargaining council for Kaiser, said regressive contracts and an SEIU-UHW proposal to roll back state patient-staffing ratios are “unconscionable” and destructive to front-line workers.

Union leaders also criticized the SEIU-UHW contract language that requires the employers to give SEIU members any contract benefits won by CNA and other unions, while testifying on the employers’ behalf in the California Legislature to weaken patient-staffing ratios.