Kaiser workers launch biggest labor battle since 1940s
California labor leaders support petition for 45,000 caregivers to quit SEIU and join NUHW
LOS ANGELES—Thousands of Kaiser healthcare workers fired the first shot today in a long-anticipated battle for independence that will determine the future of California’s largest union, SEIU. They filed a petition that will trigger elections for 45,000 SEIU members to choose between the troubled incumbent and the state’s fastest-growing union, the new National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).
“We worked for decades to make Kaiser jobs good, stable jobs that paid enough so people in our communities could support their families,” said Robert Hernandez, a materials management clerk at Kaiser Baldwin Park for almost 20 years. “Now since SEIU officials took over our union last year, Kaiser has announced layoffs, cut benefits, and started turning good jobs into contingent or flexed positions. We’re ready to put healthcare workers back in charge of our union again.”
Not since the United Auto Workers organized Ford in 1941 has the labor board scheduled a union election for so many private-sector workers. California labor legend Dolores Huerta and Unite Here Local 11 President Tom Walsh gave their support at a press conference in downtown Los Angeles.
“For employees to have a voice at work, they must have a voice in their union,” said Huerta. “This is about democracy. For more than a year, these workers have been denied the right to vote.”
“The members of Unite Here are proud to support Kaiser workers organizing to join NUHW,” said Walsh. “We are committing our support to help them win.”
Last year, SEIU officials from Washington, D.C. took over Kaiser workers’ local union, ousting thousands of healthcare workers from elected positions and putting themselves in charge. Since then, SEIU has failed to represent Kaiser employees in the workplace, focusing instead on securing their own control of the union. SEIU’s failures are documented in more than 100 charges1 with the National Labor Relations Board.
The result: Kaiser has cut workers’ retirement benefit by $242 million2, and SEIU has promised to help Kaiser cut workers’ health insurance3 and agreed to wage increases less than the increase in the cost of living—the lowest in 15 years. Safe staffing levels—long a top priority for healthcare workers—are now at risk as Kaiser eliminates positions4.
NUHW was founded as a member-led union after SEIU’s takeover, and thousands of Kaiser workers already joined in three landslide elections this January. One of their first accomplishments in NUHW was winning 171 new positions at Kaiser’s flagship Los Angeles hospital.
“To provide the best care for patients, there has to be a balance of power between healthcare workers and healthcare corporations,” said Sal Rosselli, interim president of NUHW. “For decades, the voice of Kaiser workers made Kaiser not just the best place to work, but the best place to receive care. We want to restore that balance.”
1. NLRB charges filed against SEIU for failure to represent workers: https://nuhw.org/dfrs
2. Kaiser’s financial report on pension cut: http://bit.ly/pensiontakeaway
3. SEIU’s healthcare takeaway committee: http://bit.ly/healthtakeaway
4. “Kaiser Permanente Announces Layoffs,” NPR, Aug. 12, 2009. http://n.pr/cvElVm
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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. | NUHW.org