San Diego Union Tribune: Tri-City union workers talks stalled

NUHW In the NewsFebruary 3, 2009

By Keith Darcé, Union-Tribune Staff Writer

NORTH COUNTY—Unionized workers are joining the list of people facing turmoil at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside.

Their representatives failed to show up yesterday for negotiations on the first-ever labor contract for 500 service employees at the hospital. It had taken four years for the workers to become unionized, and now it’s unclear when the talks will start because of an unfolding power struggle within the union.

The uncertainty adds to an avalanche of troubles.

Since December, the Tri-City board has fought over a decision to put the hospital’s top eight administrators on leave. A temporary management team is handling day-to-day operations while an internal investigation of finances continues.

In Sacramento, health regulators have denied Tri-City’s request to delay costly earthquake retrofits. And the medical center is saddled with 17 percent interest on $58.4 million in long-term debt, which is eating into reserves as the recession is cutting into business.

The delay in labor negotiations stems from a battle that unfolded last week between leaders of United Healthcare Workers West in California and their parent organization, the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU.

SEIU officials in Washington, D.C., removed United’s top managers and placed the 150,000-member group under trusteeship.

The members include the Tri-City workers, who were unionized in April.

United’s local negotiators told the hospital’s officials yesterday that they can’t move forward with contract talks until they receive instructions from United’s newly installed leadership, Tri-City spokesman Jeff Segall said.

Those leaders were having trouble locating records needed for the negotiations, SEIU spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette said.

“Nothing is more important to the trustees of United than making sure that our members are protected,” she said. “The new leaders of United are aware of the problem and are working aggressively to get the proper records submitted.”

United and SEIU had been at odds over the fate of 65,000 home-health aides. SEIU President Andy Stern wants to remove the aides from United and place them in a new local that would include home-health workers from two other unions. Sal Rosselli, the president of United until last week, opposed the move.

Rosselli and other deposed United leaders have launched a new labor group, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, in hopes of drawing away United members.

The split threatens to undo union gains at Tri-City, where United had helped elect what many believe is a union-friendly four-member board majority.

Discord could emerge if negotiators allied with Stern fight with union members who remain loyal to Rosselli, said Craig Barkacs, a University of San Diego professor who teaches classes on business law, ethics and labor.

“It seems (local United leaders and members) worked so long to put themselves in a favorable position, and now that appears to be in jeopardy,” Barkacs said.

Source: San Diego Union Tribune