Empire Report: National Consequences for Memorial Hospital Union Vote

NewsDecember 21, 2009

Despite an administrative campaign defined by misinformation and scare tactics, and a competing union’s million dollar anti-union efforts, Memorial Hospital employees vote to unionize with National Union of Healthcare Workers. Why is their victory expected to have national significance?

Memorial Hospital Organizing Committee and Supporters

Six years after a single employee initiated a campaign to unionize Memorial Hospital caregivers, and months after a rival union began efforts to prevent their election, employees seeking to unionize with National Union of Healthcare Workers earned a hard fought victory. 

Friday’s results were 283 for NUHW, 263 for No Union, and only 13 for the rival United Healthcare Workers, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union

For the election to be certified by the National Labor Relations Board, NUHW needed to receive a majority of the votes.  While the union was seven votes above that decisive figure, there were 17 challenged ballots needing to be resolved and, if accepted, counted.  Only, when NLRB officials began this process Friday evening, SEIU-UHW representatives asserted their right to stop the process from proceeding. 

While SEIU’s action is expected to delay certification until January, NUHW representatives who were present during the vote counting say these ballots will not alter the outcome:  

“The NLRB will not make the results official until the issue of the challenged ballots is resolved, because NUHW needs a majority of valid ballots cast to be declared the outright winner and avoid a runoff. However, the outcome is not really in doubt because there is a sufficient combination of pro-NUHW voters and ineligible voters among the challenges to make a runoff unnecessary.” 

Michael Hartnett, who headed the organizing committee that successfully petitioned the election to unionize with NUHW said, “I can’t tell you how huge this is, how hard we’ve worked, and far we’ve come…” 

When the results were announced, employee reactions were overwhelmingly exuberant. 


The Memorial campaign was complicated by the fact hospital employees had petitioned with a new union formed by former members of United Healthcare Workers, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.  Even worse, the new union was formed because UHW was placed into “trusteeship” after UHW’s board members insisted healthcare workers have the right to vote for local representatives who would participate fully in bargaining contracts with their employers.  Suddenly Memorial employees found themselves having to choose between a newly staffed SEIU-UHW and and the newly formed NUHW. 

As a result, when a majority of the hospital’s caregivers signed and submitted an April 2009 petition to the National Labor Relations Board for an election to join NUHW, the election was delayed for over five months by SEIU charges. 

After the NLRB rejected those charges, and the Memorial election proceeded, SEIU still refused to negotiate mutually agreed upon campaign ground rules, even after religious leaders, the North Bay Labor Council, and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich publicly spoke against their actions. 

According to labor journalist Randy Shaw, the large international knew it had no chance of winning, so its real goal was getting workers to vote for “no union” rather than for NUHW:  

Few could have imagined one year ago that SEIU’s number one hospital organizing drive in 2009 would focus on preventing workers from joining a union.

It’s a pattern Shaw and local labor historian Marty Bennett claim continued through Friday’s vote count:


Hospital documents revealed an administration taking advantage of SEIU’s refusal to agree to campaign ground rules, relying heavily on misleading scare tactics

Memos asked loaded questions implying that union organizers were “bothering” workers,  alleged that “the union and its supporters are telling [workers] that [they] have to vote for the union” if the worker signed an April 2009 petition, and attempted to get workers to “worry” about union dues, in part, by spreading vaguely worded myths about uncontrollable rising union dues. 

Employees alleged similar tactics were used during the 17 information meetings the administration paid employees to attend. 

Pro-NUHW employees alleged that managers initiated one-on-one meetings during which misleading information not only was given about unionization, but false allegations were made against NUHW organizing committee members in an attempt to suppress legal union discussions:  

As a result, NUHW supporters realize the two anti-union campaigns, insufficiently checked because of lackluster coverage by the region’s largest news source, likely provoked anti-NUHW fears among hospital employees, raising an exacerbated need to reach out to the employees who voted against NUHW. 


The Memorial election gives NUHW a significant victory only two weeks after the National Labor Relations Board approved elections to determine who will represent over 2,300 Kaiser healthcare workers at various Southern California sites.  As the first of dozens of N.L.R.B. rulings to be made about California union elections, tens of thousands of state workers’ will be determining their preferred approach to unionization. 

The significance of the Memorial election for Kaiser’s Santa Rosa and San Rafael sites was illustrated by the fact Kaiser workers attended the vote count.  

Adding to this significance is the fact Memorial will become the first hospital within the St. Joseph Health System to unionize service and technical employees, increasing the likelihood workers at some of its other 13 facilities will petition to unionize with NUHW.  It’s why Gaby Martinez, a member of the Mission Hospital organizing committee, traveled from Mission Viejo to support and learn from the Memorial Hospital employee’s campaign. 

If NUHW’s supporters are right, Memorial Hospital’s employees likely just found a place in the history of local labor movements, leading a renaissance promoting locally controlled, democratically structured unions and the benefits they bring.

Source: Empire Report