Sacramento Business Journal: Southern California Kaiser workers vote to leave SEIU

NewsJanuary 27, 2010

Kaiser Permanente workers in Southern California have voted by huge margins to dump Service Employees International Union and go with a rival union formed a year ago by former SEIU officials.

The vote was 1,652 to 254 in the biggest contest for members since the National Union of Healthcare Workers was formed. It brings 2,300 workers in three bargaining units at Kaiser hospitals and clinics in Los Angeles and San Diego into the new union.

Registered nurses at Kaiser’s Los Angeles Medical Center voted 746 to 36 for NUHW; psychiatric social workers voted 717 to 192 and other health-care professionals voted 189 to 26.

“This is a game changer,” crowed Sal Rosselli, a former president of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West who now heads up NUHW. “The momentum will clearly be with us as we move forward.”

SEIU spokesman Steve Trossman called the results disappointing and said the vote puts these workers at “great risk” because they will no longer be part of the Kaiser coalition and will have to bargain a contract on their own.

“Kaiser Permanente respects the rights of our employees to choose whether they want to be represented by a union and which union will represent them,” said Kaiser spokesman John Nelson in an e-mail. “We did not favor one union over the other in the elections being reported today and when the results are certified we will bargain in good faith.”

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

The contract language in Southern California left an opening for elections — but the vote was a long time coming.

NUHW filed petitions requesting elections in Kaiser’s Southern California region in February 2009. Unfair labor practice complaints filed by UHW stalled the move for months.

A regional National Labor Relations Board ruled in early December that the workers could vote. UHW appealed to the national headquarters, but the board rejected the request to review the decision.

NUHW says it has organized 3,357 members since its inception a year ago, making it the fastest-growing union in California.

UHW counters that only 2,600 of these are former UHW members. The rest are newly organized.

“Seven out of nine elections, NUHW has won,” Rosselli said. “And we’ve not gotten to the base of our union yet, including the Sutter hospitals.”

Source: Sacramento Business Journal