Sacramento Business Journal: Kaiser workers petition for vote to change unions

NewsJuly 1, 2010

By Kathy Robertson

Kaiser workers launched what could be the biggest labor battle in decades when they filed petitions Tuesday calling for union elections that would allow thousands of Kaiser workers to leave Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) for a rival union started by former SEIU leaders.

The vote would cover about 45,000 workers statewide, including 4,000 in the Sacramento region. Petitions were filed with the Oakland and Los Angeles offices of the National Labor Relations Board, which will verify they were filed appropriately and schedule elections.

If successful, the vote could tear a hole in Kaiser Permanente’s national labor alliance, slash enrollment at UHW and provide a much-needed boost for its rival, the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Last year, SEIU officials in Washington, D.C. assumed trusteeship of UHW and fired its longtime leaders. Charges ranged from bullying to criminal behavior, but the heart of the fight was a philosophical one about how to organize and represent workers. The two unions have fought over members ever since.

The petition come less than a week after most of the same group of Kaiser workers ratified a two-year national labor agreement with Kaiser that’s been criticized by NUHW as top-down, with concessions to Kaiser and little input from workers.

“We are very enthusiastic we’ll return to a union that actually allows workers to decide our fate,” said David Shapiro, a medical-social worker at Kaiser’s Sacramento Medical Center on Morse Avenue.

UHW supporters blasted the move toward elections, saying workers risk losing gains made in a “hard-fought, four-month contract campaign” against takeaways by Kaiser.

The new contract includes two 3 percent across-the-board wage increases and maintains all current benefits.

“It sickens me that after we spent the last four months fighting off takeaways to win a contract that protects our benefits and gives us good raises, NUHW would swoop in and try to take it all away,” Maria ‘Lucy’ Rangel, a unit assistant at Kaiser’s Antioch hospital, said in a press release. “How dare they threaten our future for their own personal power.”

Kaiser spokesman Gerri Ginsburg said Kaiser respects workers’ ability to make their own decisions about labor representation and declined comment.


Source: Sacramento Business Journal