San Diego Union Tribune: Area Kaiser workers vote for new union

NewsJanuary 27, 2010

By Keith Darcé

Kaiser Permanente workers in San Diego County and other parts of Southern California have struck a blow against the Service Employees International Union by voting to leave the powerful organization and join a competing labor group headed by former SEIU leaders.

Results of the voting were announced yesterday, nearly a year after executives of SEIU offices in California were ousted by the union giant’s national president in a power struggle. The deposed leaders quickly formed a rival group, the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Employees with three SEIU bargaining units at Kaiser spent the past few weeks casting ballots on the question of joining the new union.

Psychiatric and social service workers voted 717 to 192 to join Healthcare Workers, while health care professionals endorsed the switch by a margin of 189 to 26. Nurses at a Los Angeles hospital voted 746 to 36 to leave SEIU.

“It’s hard to see this any other way but bad news for SEIU,” said Craig Barkacs, a University of San Diego professor who teaches classes on business law, ethics and labor. “This was a situation where people had a choice, and the vote was an overwhelming repudiation of SEIU.”

The results likely will boost the confidence of Healthcare Workers’ leaders as they reach out to other health employees belonging to SEIU statewide, including 50,000 other Kaiser workers, Barkacs said.

Organizers for Healthcare Workers said their efforts will restore democratic representation that was stripped away when national SEIU leaders seized control of the California operations.

“(They) couldn’t convince health care workers to give up our rights and leave our jobs and our patients in the hands of unelected bureaucrats,” said Jim Clifford, a therapist for Kaiser in San Diego.

SEIU leaders countered that the startup union lacks the power and alliances that the larger organization possesses.

“SEIU members at Kaiser are part of the 100,000-member Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, and expect to be at the bargaining table this spring as part of the coalition to negotiate a new national agreement,” said Steve Trossman, spokesman for SEIU’s health care division in California.

Source: San Diego Union Tribune