More than 25,000 workers petition to join NUHW and oust SEIU from 101 California hospitals and nursing homes

NewsFebruary 5, 2009

“We want to stay united in NUHW with the leaders we elected. They helped us build our union and win the best healthcare contract standards in the country.”

—Janet Shepherd, respiratory therapist at CHW Northridge

LOS ANGELES—The National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) filed petitions on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week for elections to represent more than 15,000 healthcare workers in hospitals across California—including Catholic Healthcare West, the state’s largest hospital corporation. Along with petitions filed Monday, 25,000 caregivers at 101 facilities will now be able to vote to quit SEIU and join with their co-workers in NUHW.

NUHW is an independent union founded last week by the elected leaders of United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) after they were undemocratically removed in a hostile takeover by the Service Employee International Union (SEIU).

“We want to stay united in NUHW with the leaders we elected,” said Janet Shepherd, a respiratory therapist at Northridge Hospital Medical Center. “They helped us build our union and win the best healthcare contract standards in the country. Why would we want to be part of an SEIU union run by unelected staff we’ve never heard of?”

NUHW was founded to be more democratic than SEIU, which seized control of UHW on Jan. 27, disenfranchised members, and replaced 18 elected leaders with appointed trustees from Washington, D.C.. UHW had organized more hospital and nursing home workers in 2008 than the rest of SEIU combined—but national officials imposed a trusteeship in retaliation for the local union’s public criticism of corrupt and undemocratic practices by SEIU leaders.

Since the takeover, SEIU officials have failed to represent UHW members, putting all local staff on leave, and suspending bargaining and arbitration for thousands of workers. At Tri-City Hospital on Monday, they simply failed to show up for a scheduled bargaining session, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

“SEIU isn’t here to help healthcare workers,” said Martha Vazquez, a radiology tech at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton. “They’re here to tear apart our union because we spoke out against them. We’re going to vote to keep our union together in NUHW. It’s clear that employers want SEIU, but caregivers want NUHW.”

In many of the facilities where petitions were filed, a majority of workers have already signed up to join NUHW. But SEIU Executive Vice President and UHW Trustee Dave Regan told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that SEIU would “fight them every step of the way” to stop workers from uniting in their union of choice.

The new petitions since Tuesday include 14,000 caregivers at Catholic Healthcare West facilities; 800 workers at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, run by the Daughters of Charity Health System; 450 workers at Washington Hospital in Fremont; and 120 at Alameda Hospital.