Centinela Hospital workers petition to join NUHW

NewsOctober 5, 2009

Caregivers cite SEIU corruption, labor law violations, and secrecy around recent contract failure

Workers at Centinela Hospital Medical Center have filed a petition to quit the scandal-plagued SEIU and join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) instead, joining 1,600 workers at four other Southern California hospitals who petitioned on Sept. 24.

“As a union steward it’s always been my job to stand up for my co-workers and for good jobs in our community.” said Toni Rangel, a pharmacy technician at Centinela. “But SEIU has taken away our voice to do that. The only way we can protect our jobs and wages is to join the union we built, NUHW.”

In January, SEIU seized control of California’s healthcare union in a hostile takeover—removing the local union’s elected officers, rank-and-file executive board, and more than 2,000 shop stewards like Rangel who were the members’ first line of defense to protect jobs and wages. Since then, more than 100,000 healthcare workers have petitioned to quit SEIU and join NUHW, an independent union formed by their democratically elected leaders.

The Centinela petition, filed on Friday with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), will trigger an election so that the hospital’s more than 600 workers can vote to change unions.

SEIU and Centinela management teamed up to try to avoid an election by preventing caregivers from gathering enough signatures. SEIU organizers kept watch at the hospital’s entrances last week, helping security guards block off-duty workers from bringing petitions into the hospital cafeteria for their co-workers to sign—a clear violation of federal labor law.

Workers are concerned that hospital management wants to keep SEIU because the union agrees to sweetheart deals that reduce wages and benefits. Last December, Centinela workers won a recommendation from a neutral arbitrator that the hospital should agree to their contract terms. Caregivers voted overwhelmingly to accept it. But since SEIU took over, SEIU has been trying to get Centinela workers to accept a deal on management’s terms that is less than what the arbitrator had recommended. When workers refused and SEIU had to take the issue back to arbitration, SEIU failed to win the same terms—and came back with a ruling almost identical to what they had already worked out with management. SEIU has raised more suspicion by refusing to share the arbitrator’s full ruling with the affected workers

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SEIU has also been under fire for a series of corruption scandals in Los Angeles that implicated SEIU leaders including Tyrone Freeman, Rickman Jackson, Annelle Grajeda, and Alejandro Stephens. Several scandal-stained officials have resigned from their posts only to be given high-paying jobs elsewhere in SEIU.

Centinela Hospital workers petition to quit SEIU and join NUHW