Monterey County Herald: Caregivers dump SEIU, vote to join new union

NewsMay 18, 2010

By Lane Wallace

Caregivers at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital have voted to leave Service Employees International Union and join the rival National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Results, announced Monday after three weeks of voting by mail, shows 408 votes for the health care union, 242 votes for SEIU, and 13 votes for no union. The local union represents more than 830 workers, including respiratory care practitioners, licensed vocational nurses, certified nursing assistants, clerical workers and others.

The current contract at Salinas Valley expires Aug. 14, said hospital spokeswoman Adrienne Laurent. Hospital officials will negotiate a contract earlier than that if the new union wants to, she said.

“We’ve always had good relations (with unions), and we expect that to continue,” Laurent said.

The Salinas Valley vote is part of an ongoing struggle between SEIU and NUHW, which broke off in January 2009. NUHW members said they left because of a hostile takeover of California’s health care union.

Since then, NUHW has been trying to get SEIU health care workers to switch. How much success it has had depends on which side is telling the story.

The election for NUHW “is our second-biggest hospital election,” said Sadie Crabtree, a spokeswoman for the union. About 2,600 Kaiser Permanente health workers in Southern California have voted to go with the new union. NUHW is working toward an election that would ask 47,000 Kaiser workers throughout the state if they want to change unions. Workers at more than 360 facilities have petitioned to join NUHW in the last 15 months, and most are still waiting for their elections, Crabtree said.

Adriana Surfas, a spokeswoman for SEIU, called the Salinas election results “disappointing.” She said NUHW efforts to organize 18,000 workers in San Francisco and another 18,000 in Sacramento never reached the election stage because workers were against the new union. SEIU lost an election representing 10,000 workers in Fresno, Surfas said.

Ernesto Gonzales, a nutrition services aide who has been at the hospital for 14 years, said, “We basically wanted our union back.”

The NUHW negotiators are the same ones who had been with SEIU before the union split, he said. The SEIU, he said, “fired all our union reps.”

The SEIU representatives who came in for this election were from out of the area and didn’t know the workers, Gonzales said.

One of the hospital workers who voted to retain SEIU was Zedrick Zapata, a certified nursing assistant.

“They’re the ones that I trust, and have always been there for us,” he said.

NUHW, Zapata said, “hasn’t done anything for the workers.”

In April, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded more than $1.5million in damages to SEIU in a lawsuit alleging sabotage, theft, vandalism and other offenses by NUHW. The SEIU had sought $25million.

The petition follows an earlier attempt to replace SEIU as the representative for some 600 Monterey County health care employees, including workers at Natividad Medical Center. That effort was abandoned in July.

Including the Kaiser workers, more than 100,000 workers in hospitals and nursing homes have filed petitions for union elections, Crabtree said.

Source: Monterey County Herald