Healthcare workers win new union at USC University Hospital

NewsMay 28, 2010

Caregivers join NUHW despite union-busting effort by hospital administrators and officials of their own former union, SEIU

LOS ANGELES—More than 600 USC University Hospital workers have joined the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) in a two-day election that capped a months-long battle between caregivers, hospital management, and the SEIU.

“We’ve taken back our hospital,” said Noemi Aguirre, a respiratory therapist at the hospital. “It’s such an incredible feeling to know we have a voice again, that we have the strength we need to stand up for our patients and for ourselves.”

The struggle began when a majority of union workers at the hospital decided to switch unions from SEIU to the member-led NUHW, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) scheduled an election. In elections to choose between unions, a “No Union” option is added to the ballot automatically.

USC management seized on the chance to get rid of workers’ union altogether, and hired the Weissman Group, an Ohio-based firm that specializes in “Union Avoidance Consulting and Strategy,” according to its website. Management illegally suspended two longtime employees who were leading the union effort, and had three NUHW organizers arrested while they were eating with workers in the hospital’s public cafeteria.

The pitched battle took a bizarre turn when the incumbent union, SEIU, withdrew representation from the workers and took hospital management’s side, actually encouraging their supporters to vote “No Union” and give up their rights, wages, and benefits.

“I couldn’t believe it when my SEIU rep told me to vote No Union,” said Anthony Gallina, a patient care technician for 13 years who had planned to vote for SEIU. “I doesn’t make sense that someone who was supposed to be on our side would want us to give up everything and go non-union.”

The NLRB conducted the election on Wednesday and Thursday and reported the final vote late Thursday night: 393 for NUHW and 122 for No Union. A smaller unit of 84 professionals came just five votes short of a clear victory, and they are filing charges with the labor board to request a new election because of the illegal anti-union campaign.

The 619 new NUHW members at USC University Hospital are part of an exodus of thousands of SEIU members who have made NUHW the fastest-growing union in California. The movement began last January, when SEIU officials from Washington, D.C. took over California’s healthcare union, forced healthcare workers from elected positions, and put themselves in charge. The next day, dozens of healthcare workers voted to establish NUHW as a new, independent union.

Workers at more than 360 facilities have petitioned to join NUHW in the last 16 months, and most are still waiting for their elections. More than 5,000 caregivers at Kaiser facilities, hospitals, and nursing homes have already joined NUHW, and elections are expected for almost 60,000 more this year.

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The National Union of Healthcare Workers is California’s fastest-growing union, representing caregivers in every job classification. More than 100,000 workers in hospitals, nursing homes, and Kaiser Permanente facilities have petitioned for elections to join NUHW and win a strong, democratic voice at work. |