Majority of 380 Kaiser optical workers petition to join NUHW

NewsJune 7, 2010

Five of Kaiser’s seven bargaining units have now joined NUHW or signed majority petitions

Oakland, Calif.—A majority of 380 optical workers at Kaiser have submitted a petition to the National Labor Relations Board asking to change their union from SEIU to the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

“We’re joining NUHW to bring back the strong union we used to have,” said Sonia Askew, an optician at Kaiser South Sacramento. “SEIU officials tore apart our union and silenced our voices, and told us they would look out for us. But we’re seeing more and more that SEIU just can’t deliver, at the bargaining table or day to day in our workplaces.”

Three groups of Southern California Kaiser professionals already switched from SEIU to NUHW in January, and have already had great success in improving staffing levels, winning 171 new jobs at Kaiser’s Los Angeles Medical Center. Along with last week’s petition by mental health professionals, today’s petition by optical workers means that two of Kaiser’s four remaining SEIU bargaining units have submitted majority petitions to join NUHW as well.

Under federal labor law, employees have the right to change unions at least once every three years, and they have a 30-day window when they can petition for a government-supervised election. For Kaiser workers, this window of opportunity runs from June 3 to July 3.

SEIU officials rushed to settle a recent deal with Kaiser before that window opened, in the hopes of winning back the support of Kaiser workers. But with the lowest wage increases in 15 years and a new committee to cut healthcare and retirement benefits, the rushed agreement has had the opposite effect.

By July 3, every remaining SEIU bargaining unit at Kaiser will have petitioned for elections to join NUHW—a total of 47,000 workers.

“I’ve been at Kaiser for 14 years, and we’ve always done better than this,” said Askew. “People can feel the difference. Our union is weaker because of SEIU.”

NUHW is a rank-and-file movement of healthcare workers who are taking back their union after SEIU officials siezed control in January 2009, and these elections are being watched and supported by union activists across the country.

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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. |