Children’s Hospital workers fight SEIU’s backroom deals

August 3rd, 2009

Children’s Hospital workers in Oakland picketed on SEIU’s first day of bargaining with their bosses. SEIU tried to lock out the elected bargaining team, so that no one but a few hand-picked workers would know what happened at the bargaining table. SEIU failed, and the workers who sat in on bargaining were shocked by what they saw. Here’s what happened according to Ruth Kees, a 32-year employee at the hospital.

At Children’s, we’ve always had open bargaining sessions, where any member can sit in and see first-hand what both sides are saying. That way members can’t be manipulated by rumors and messages from the boss. They can hear the give and take and know exactly what’s going on.

But this time, when we tried to attend bargaining, SEIU asked management to lock us out. Management had no problem with workers attending bargaining just as we always had—but SEIU did. We stood our ground and stayed. And when negotiations began, we saw what SEIU was trying to hide.

SEIU’s negotiator was from Local 1021, and she was so unprepared I felt embarrassed for her. She didn’t even give management a written proposal. The only two things she asked for were raises and dues deduction so SEIU would get more of our money.

We were shocked. Many of us had been through negotiations before and knew that you never start talking about raises until the last stages of bargaining, when most of the other issues have been ironed out. But the hand-picked workers at the table with SEIU didn’t know any better.

There are a lot of problems we need to address in bargaining. We need to clarify the language of our contract so that managers can’t bend the rules. The hospital has started making non-union workers pay for their own health insurance, and we know UHW members are next in line. We would have brought these concerns up in negotiations. But SEIU is
telling our bosses that all we want is more money to pay dues to SEIU.

The other workers at Children’s are very upset. We’re used to having a union that listens to us and helps us act together in our own best interest. I think that if you are in an organization that does not respect you as a person, or respect your voice or opinion, then that is not an organization for you. It is a selfish organization that is only for the people who control it.

Since SEIU began attacking our union two years ago, they never once came out to talk to the members and ask what we wanted. Now SEIU says we’ll never be allowed to get out of SEIU. I say, slavery ended in 1865, and I am nobody’s slave. We have the right to vote and choose our union.

This isn’t just about who our leaders are, or what our union’s name is, or whether purple or red is better. It’s about having a union where participation is not just allowed, but encouraged. We deserve to have a union we are proud to call our own.

—Ruth Kees, Phlebotomist at Children’s Hospital in Oakland