Kaiser workers call for new election, stronger protection of workers’ rights

NewsOctober 7, 2010

Employees’ choice thwarted by delays in NLRB enforcement, false fear campaign by SEIU and employer

Oakland, Calif.—One year and seven months ago, an absolute majority of 43,500 Kaiser Permanente employees in California presented petitions to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), asking for a vote to leave the incumbent union SEIU and form their own union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). When ballots were counted today, 11,364 were for NUHW, and 18,290 were for SEIU—and workers are calling for a new election.

“Workers can’t have a fair vote when they don’t know they have the right to choose without being punished for it,” said Marie Foster, a program assistant at Kaiser San Jose for 23 years. “SEIU and Kaiser management threatened people’s livelihood and the NLRB didn’t take action to protect us until it was too late. This is a perfect example of why we need stronger laws and better enforcement to stop employers from making decisions that employees should make for ourselves.”

Today’s outcome was not the overwhelming majority for NUHW that caregivers could have won last year. For 19 months, SEIU employed legal obstruction tactics to deny workers’ right to vote. During that time, Kaiser illegally funded SEIU’s re-election campaign, paying for dozens of Kaiser employees to conduct full-time election campaigning on behalf of the incumbent union, and providing SEIU officials with conference rooms and access to campaign during new employee orientations. [Federal lawsuit: http://bit.ly/kp-charge ]

In April, Kaiser began illegally withholding raises from workers who had already joined NUHW, while SEIU sent hundreds of thousands of mailers, leaflets, and robocalls to other Kaiser employees, threatening that they, too, would lose their raises and other benefits if they joined NUHW. [SEIU mail: http://bit.ly/raises-mail ]

NUHW members filed charges, but the labor board took no effective action until six months later—after the ballots were already in. Just hours after voting ended, the NLRB exposed SEIU’s scare tactic as a lie, when they filed for an order forcing Kaiser to repay more than $1 million in raises to NUHW members. [NLRB legal memo: http://bit.ly/10j-req ]

NUHW’s huge rank-and-file organizing committee worked to counter SEIU and Kaiser’s misrepresentations, harassment, and intimidation in hundreds of workplaces throughout the state. Unfortunately, too many workers had been misled and frightened in the intervening months for NUHW’s caregiver-led campaign to prevail.

Labor law experts say that Kaiser’s illegal support for SEIU will likely lead the NLRB to throw out the results of the election and schedule a re-vote. Kaiser workers are eager for the opportunity.

“We’ll win any fair election where everyone knows the truth,” said Foster. “Kaiser employees want a union that is accountable to the members and where healthcare workers are in charge of the negotiations that affect our jobs and our patients. Shame on SEIU for trying to scare and manipulate workers instead of standing up for our rights.”

NUHW Interim President Sal Rosselli vowed that “NUHW will exhaust every opportunity to achieve a fair election for Kaiser workers to choose their union, free of fear and intimidation.”

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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