Sacramento Business Journal: NLRB gives huge victory to National Union of Healthcare Workers

NewsDecember 3, 2009

by Kathy Robertson, Staff writer

A regional National Labor Relations Board ruled Monday that more than 2,300 Kaiser workers in Southern California can vote on whether they want to be represented by Service Employees International Union, a rival formed early this year — or neither of them.

The ruling in Region 21, which includes numerous Kaiser facilities in Los Angeles and San Diego, is a major coup for the National Union of Healthcare Workers. Formed in January after the international assumed trusteeship of SEIU local United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) amidst a political fight and charges of illegal activity, the new union angled for elections at Kaiser and other major health systems for 10 months.

Efforts to call for Kaiser elections in Northern California were nixed by the NLRB regional office in Oakland in April because an existing contract remains in place. The decision was affirmed by the national headquarters in Washington, D.C., in June.

The contract language in Southern California is different, leaving an opening for elections, regional director James Small ruled Monday. The decision affects 2,302 workers in three bargaining units, NLRB documents show.

Petitions requesting elections in the region were filed by NUHW in February. Unfair labor practice complaints filed by UHW stalled resolution but were rejected by the decision Monday.

The ruling states NUHW is, indeed, a viable union and there is no contract to bar an election in Southern California. Small directed Kaiser to provide a list of eligible voters on or before Tuesday.

“Collective-bargaining agreements between (Kaiser and UHW) do not serve as bars to the petitions because third parties cannot discern the appropriate time for filing a petition,” the ruling states. “Contracts showing different and confusing dates create no bar to an election.”

UHW and/or Kaiser may request for review by the national office of the NLRB. It’s due by Dec. 15.

“We have received the NLRB decision, and are reviewing it, but are not prepared to comment substantively on it at this time,” Kaiser spokeswoman John Nelson wrote in an e-mail.

UHW officials blasted the decision and said they will seek review in Washington.

The decision puts at risk guaranteed raises, health care coverage and pensions of Kaiser Permanente nurses, social workers and professionals in Southern California, UHW leaders and workers said.

“We have worked for years to achieve standards at Kaiser that give us security and allow us to provide the professional care our patients need,” Jeanette Cryer, a licensed clinical social worker at Kaiser’s Concord/Riverside psychiatric facility, said in a news release. “This decision puts all of that at risk and holds out the real threat that we will lose what we’ve fought so hard to achieve.”

Many of these benefits were negotiated by management at NUHW when they were at the helm.

“It’s huge,” NUHW executive John Borsos said of the ruling. “It demonstrates the frivolity of everything SEIU has been doing and we think it portends the floodgates of other elections as well.”

Source: Sacramento Business Journal