Fresno Bee: In-home caregivers to decide on union support

NewsApril 24, 2009

By Tim Sheehan

Two rival unions will square off in an election to determine which one will represent about 10,000 Fresno County in-home health-care workers.

Fresno County personnel managers deemed valid a petition filed last month to decertify the Service Employees International Union’s United Healthcare Workers-West (SEIU/UHW) as the bargaining agent for workers in the county’s In-Home Supportive Services Public Authority.

It’s part of a bitter statewide battle between the established union and the upstart National Union of Healthcare Workers, launched earlier this year by former SEIU/UHW officials, over representation of nursing-home and in-home health workers in labor negotiations.

The dispute is flaring as Fresno County prepares to slice caregivers’ wages and benefits by more than $1 per hour to make up for similar cuts by the state in its support for such programs.

“This decertification effort has made folks so much more active to fight those cuts,” said Sal Roselli, the interim National Union of Healthcare Workers president in Oakland and one of the former SEIU leaders. “These workers are organized around a vision of achieving comparable wages and benefits that their counterparts have in California hospitals like Kaiser.”

No election date has been set. Under the county’s ordinance, Thursday’s validation notice will be posted for 30 days before an election can be held.

A ballot will include both the new and old unions; any other potential organization that can show at least 10% support of the workers; and “no labor organization.”

“We are absolutely confident that when the election happens, it will be overwhelming to support NUHW,” Roselli said.

But SEIU/UHW isn’t going down without a fight, said Rebecca Malberg, a deputy trustee for the incumbent union in Northern California.

“When those leaders were in charge, they allowed those [state] cuts to go through unanswered and put these members at risk,” Malberg said of Roselli and other former SEIU/UHW leaders who were later deposed.

In a federal lawsuit in Oakland, SEIU has accused the former leaders of its United Healthcare Workers-West subsidiary of sabotaging representation of members as they established the new organization.

“We feel good that when we go to the workers in an election, we’ll be successful,” Malberg said. “Our members know that a union with 2 million members across the country … is in a much better position to defend their contracts.”

Source: Fresno Bee