Salinas Californian: Workers petition to leave powerful SEIU

NewsApril 4, 2009

Union rupture suggested in Monterey County

By Leslie Griff

There are dissidents in the ranks in one of Monterey County’s largest unions.

Friday a group of county and hospital employees announced that they have petitioned to vote on whether to stay with SEIU, their current union.

The vote could split about 2,800 members from the 4,500 workers in the county represented by SEIU 521. If hospital and county employees approve the change, governments would need to negotiate contracts with another union.

“We requested the vote because we would like to have a choice,” said Malia Esteban, a county court liaison. “We want to make our own informed decision.”

Esteban and a group of about a dozen of her colleagues want to join National Union of Healthcare Workers, a months-old group that split from the large international union over representation of health care workers in California.

The conflict in Monterey County stems from changes that occurred after the local union merged with units in Santa Clara, Sonoma and Santa Cruz counties, supporters of the split said.

“We are fed up with the lack of local representation,” public works employee Justin Light said.


He complained that SEIU leadership wasn’t responsive enough to local concerns, routing member services calls through a call center and not promptly dealing with concerns that a tight county budget could lead to layoffs.

Local SEIU leaders counter that members can meet with them in SEIU’s Salinas office and that their direct phone lines and, in some cases, cell phone numbers are distributed.

The merger, internal organizer David Diaz said, didn’t weaken local voices or access to leadership.

“By consolidation,” Diaz said, “we earned strength in numbers.”

He added that the union is now better positioned to garner concessions for workers. The new group, leaders warned, doesn’t have the resources of SEIU.

Large vote

An estimated 95,000 health care and other workers in the state may vote to leave the massive SEIU for NUHW.

As the two groups battle for membership, both have filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, slowing the election process.

Only one group, representing 350 Sacramento-area workers, officially voted to leave SEIU for NUHW.

Before any vote in Monterey County can go forward, the county Elections Department must verify that at least 30 percent of union members signed on to support the ballot.

Source: Salinas Californian