Kaiser Mental Health and Optical Workers Vote to Join NUHW

NewsNovember 11, 2010

Kaiser workers reject SEIU’s fear campaign and join with their co-workers in Southern California

Oakland, Calif.—Approximately 1,500 Kaiser mental health professionals and optical workers in Northern California have voted to leave the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) concluded the ballot count today with a final tally of 603 for NUHW to 196 for SEIU in the Integrated Behavioral Health Services (IBHS) unit, and 154 for NUHW to 142 for SEIU in the optical unit.

“This is a victory for democracy. Now we will have a real voice regarding issues of patient care, staffing and workload,” said Spencer Gross, a psychologist at Kaiser Pleasanton for 23 years.

Kaiser’s Northern California mental health and optical workers will join 2,300 psychologists, social workers, dietitians, audiologists, speech pathologists, health educators and nurses in Southern California Kaiser hospitals and clinics who voted overwhelmingly to join NUHW in January.

“We’ve waited a long time to be united in NUHW with our co-workers in Southern California,” said Maria Padilla-Castro, a 10-year therapist at Kaiser Sacramento. “Now we’ll be able to work together to improve the standards of care for our patients.”

In a smaller bargaining unit of 368 social workers, SEIU’s illegal collusion with Kaiser management was too large an obstacle for NUHW supporters to overcome. SEIU won by just 9 votes out of 288 cast.

NUHW’s newest members overcame a relentless campaign by SEIU designed to instill fear that workers would lose the provisions guaranteed under their existing contract if they voted for the new union – a claim clearly contradicted by settled labor law.

“SEIU had no positive case to make for why healthcare workers are better off with them, so they just played the fear card,” said Ken Rogers, a psychologist at Kaiser Santa Clara/Campbell for 6 years. “Fortunately, enough of us saw through their illegal tactics that we were able to do what we’ve been waiting almost two years to do: take back our union and put members in charge again.”

Kaiser management unlawfully assisted SEIU in the election by bringing organizers into mandatory work meetings to campaign against NUHW, and allowed SEIU to use the company’s email system to disseminate its campaign messages. At the optical laboratory in Richmond, Kaiser supervisors barred NUHW organizers and off-duty Kaiser optical employees who supported NUHW from entering any part of the property, while giving SEIU free rein to campaign there.

Last month, the NLRB announced its intention to seek an injunction in response to Kaiser’s decision to illegally withhold scheduled raises for 2,300 Kaiser professionals in Southern California, an action that formed the basis of SEIU’s misleading message to Northern California professionals that an NUHW victory would put workers’ contract gains in jeopardy.

At the eleventh hour on the very day of the vote count, SEIU attempted to persuade the NLRB to impound the ballots and postpone the count indefinitely, continuing its statewide efforts to prevent workers from making a free choice in facilities where majorities support NUHW. Thousands of workers at hospitals all over California have been waiting for months for SEIU to lift blocking charges and allow them to vote, including workers who have been waiting since February 2009 at Children’s Hospital Oakland, California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley.

The Labor Board rejected SEIU’s request, and as the vote count revealed, the overwhelming majority of workers in the three elections rejected SEIU’s campaign of fear and misinformation.

As NUHW members, Kaiser professionals’ priorities at the bargaining table will include reversing the takeaways SEIU agreed to in its latest round of negotiations with Kaiser, and winning improvements to job security, health insurance benefits and patient care standards.

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The National Union of Healthcare Workers is California’s fastest-growing union, representing caregivers in every job classification. NUHW is dedicated to member democracy, dignity and justice for healthcare workers, and quality, affordable healthcare for all. | NUHW.org