Salinas Californian: 2,800 Monterey County health & service workers petition to dump SEIU, join NUHW

NewsApril 3, 2009

Workers say forced union merger in 2007 left them with no voice and weak representation

SALINAS—More than 2,800 Monterey County employees have petitioned to join the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

The group includes around 800 healthcare workers at Natividad Medical Center as well as 911 dispatchers, child support workers, sanitation workers, and other public service employees who are currently represented by SEIU Local 521.

“SEIU told us a merger would make us stronger, but they dismantled our local union and replaced our union reps with a call center in Pasadena,” said Malia Esteban, a court liaison with the Department of Child Support Services for more than 16 years. “They’re not giving us the support we need to stop the budget cuts and protect vital public services in our communities. We need a union that is accountable to workers here in Monterey County, not just to SEIU officials in Washington, D.C.”

In 2006, national SEIU officials began replacing California’s elected local union leaders with handpicked appointees through a series of mergers, the group said. A loophole in federal labor law allows appointed local union presidents to stay in power for up to three years without having to run for re-election if they are appointed as the result of a merger. SEIU forced mergers on local unions through rigged elections, the workers said, where larger local unions could absorb smaller ones even if the members opposed it.

Three years later, most SEIU members in California have been left without elected union officers, and most of the merged local unions have failed to establish any constitution or bylaws to protect members’ rights, workers said. Several of SEIU’s appointed local presidents have been caught in corruption scandals.

When reformers in California’s healthcare union resisted a forced merger and insisted on a fair vote, workers said national SEIU officials removed the local’s elected leaders in a hostile takeover. The next day, those leaders founded NUHW. In just two months, more than 95,000 SEIU members have petitioned to join NUHW.

“NUHW was created by SEIU members like us who wanted a stronger voice in their union,” Esteban said. “Now we finally have a choice.”

Monterey County employees said they filed their petitions with the County Public Employment Relations Office on Tuesday.

Source: Salinas Californian