Memorial Hospital workers vote to join NUHW after six-year struggle

NewsDecember 19, 2009

Caregivers reject a rival organization that stood in their way

Santa Rosa, Calif.—Caregivers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital voted to join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) today in an election victory that caps their six-year struggle to win a voice at work.

“We are all so excited to finally have a voice to make our hospital a better place to work and better for our community,” said Nancy Timberlake, a telemetry technician at the hospital. “We stuck together for six years and we finally did it. I’m so relieved and so happy that we won.”

The vote was 283 for NUHW, 263 for No Union, and only 13 for SEIU, a rival organization that tried to interfere in the election. Despite SEIU’s devastating loss, as of 7:00 p.m. Friday night they were still trying to stop the labor board from certifying the results. Seventeen ballots were cast by workers not on the board’s list of eligible voters, and SEIU wants those ballots counted in the hopes there will be enough “No Union” votes to trigger a runoff.

The workers’ effort drew national attention last year after political leaders and religious leaders rallied with caregivers at the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, the founding order of St. Joseph Health System, which owns Memorial. Under pressure from the community, hospital administration agreed to negotiate with workers’ representatives to establish ground rules for a free and fair union election.

This April, a majority of Memorial caregivers petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for an election to join NUHW. But the election was delayed for more than five months because of frivolous “blocking charges” filed by SEIU, the rival organization. When the labor board rejected those charges, SEIU demanded a spot on the ballot and blocked negotiations over ground rules—giving hospital management a free hand to mount an aggressive anti-union campaign.

SEIU ignored appeals from religious leaders, the North Bay Labor Council, and even former Labor Secretary Robert Reich to negotiate ground rules. Despite having virtually no support at Memorial Hospital caregivers, SEIU bombarded workers with dozens of mailers and visited them constantly at home and at work, urging them not to vote for NUHW.

NUHW filed charges with the labor board on Wednesday, after workers alleged that hospital administrators broke the law by engaging in illegal surveillance of union supporters, threatening and disciplining union activists, and giving SEIU staff unfair access to caregivers at work so they could campaign against the union.

“It was really transparent what SEIU was doing,” said Melissa Bosanco, a Care Partner at the hospital. “It was like they were management’s anti-union team. They wanted us to fail. But we saw through it and stuck together in NUHW.”

Next month, more than 2,300 Kaiser Permanente professionals in Southern California will vote to quit SEIU and join NUHW. In all, a majority of 100,000 workers at 360 facilities across California have petitioned to join NUHW and are waiting for similar elections.

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The National Union of Healthcare Workers is an independent, member-led union, dedicated to improving the lives of healthcare workers and the people they care for. More than 100,000 workers in hospitals, Kaiser Permanente facilities, homecare, and nursing homes have petitioned to join NUHW since January 2009. |