Fresno County homecare providers expose SEIU’s illegal tactics in illegitimate election

NewsJune 22, 2009

Mistakes by the State election officer could also have disenfranchised hundreds of providers who wanted to vote

Fresno, Calif.—Fresno County homecare providers spoke out today at the County Hall of Records to tell their stories of SEIU’s illegal tactics to interfere in this month’s union election. Thousands of providers petitioned for the election in March so they could quit the scandal-plagued SEIU and join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

SEIU spent an estimated $10 million on attack mailings, robo-calls, TV and radio ads, and 1,000 paid staff flown in from across the country, but failed to win enough support from workers to win the election without breaking the law. Homecare providers reported scores of incidents of voter intimidation, illegal threats, and ballot manipulation by SEIU staff. In addition, delays by the State Mediation and Conciliation Service (SMCS) in sending replacement ballots could have disenfranchised hundreds of providers whose ballots were not counted because they arrived after the June 15 deadline.

“Throughout the election, SEIU demonstrated an appalling disregard for the truth and the law,” said Sarah Jones, a homecare provider in Fresno. “In mailings, phone calls, and at our doors, they threatened us over and over that we would lose our health insurance, our paid hours, and our wages if we voted for NUHW.”

California’s Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA) makes it illegal for either an employer or a union to discriminate, threaten, or do anything against any employee for choosing a union or for participating or not participating in union activities. It is also illegal under the MMBA for an employer to change wages or benefits because workers chose to unionize or choose to change their union.

Even after it was pointed out to an SEIU-UHW deputy trustee that these threats were unambiguously illegal, SEIU continued to use them, both verbally and in writing.

Other homecare providers reported being intimidated by physically threatening behavior by SEIU staff.

“I was at the door of a fellow homecare provider, explaining why I was voting for NUHW,” said Phally Pov, a provider and NUHW volunteer. “An SEIU organizer saw us and ran around the corner. Minutes later two huge men pulled up in a car, jumped out, and started coming toward us and yelling. They yelled over me and wouldn’t let me talk with the provider. I noticed that the men smelled strongly of marijuana. I was afraid for my safety, and the provider I was visiting was visibly shaken. They threatened the member that if he voted for NUHW he would lose his benefits. When they were finished yelling at us, they handed the other provider a t-shirt and told him he’d better vote for SEIU-UHW.”

Several cases were documented of vandalism and theft by SEIU staff targeting NUHW supporters.

“I saw a man in purple walking up to my door,” said Lesalie Kyle, a provider in North Clovis. “I had an NUHW sign behind my locked screen door because I didn’t want SEIU harassing me at home. He rang the bell, and when no one answered he kicked my screen door in and put a bunch of SEIU flyers in front of the sign.”

Silbenia Conley, a provider in Kerman, filed a police report after three family members in her home witnessed an SEIU staffer steal a sign she had put on her door to show her community that she supported NUHW.

Fresno homecare consumer and advocate John Wilkins supported the workers in their challenge to the election. “Homecare providers make great sacrifices to care for seniors and people with disabilities in our community, and they deserve a fair election to choose their union. As a homecare advocate I am deeply troubled by these reports from providers in Fresno County.”

Despite SEIU’s illegal tactics, just 117 out of almost 6,000 votes could swing the outcome of the election. More than 500 ballots could remain uncounted because of mistakes and flawed decisions by SMCS—some because SMCS did not send replacement ballots in time for workers to vote before the deadline, and some because the election officer chose to ignore votes from providers who had taped their ballot envelopes shut instead of gluing them.

Based on SEIU’s illegal conduct and errors by the SMCS election officer, healthcare workers in NUHW are preparing a legal challenge to the certification of the ballot count and demanding the election be re-run after SEIU’s lawless tactics are investigated.

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The National Union of Healthcare Workers is an independent, member-led union, dedicated to improving the lives of healthcare workers and the people they care for. Nearly 100,000 workers in hospitals, Kaiser Permanente facilities, homecare, and nursing homes have petitioned to join NUHW since January, with 40,000 more expected to petition in the next few months.