San Francisco Business Times: NLRB decision could open door to new health care union

NewsDecember 2, 2009

by Chris Rauber

The National Labor Relations Board has rejected challenges to a proposed election that would let more than than 2,300 health care workers at Kaiser Permanente facilities in Southern California vote to either stay with the Service Employees International Union and or join a new rival.

Workers at dozens of Kaiser facilities will have the chance within 42 days to vote on which union they want to represent them in bargaining, the Oakland-based National Union of Healthcare Workers said Wednesday.

Kaiser is also based in Oakland.

According to NUHW, a majority of the Kaiser workers filed petitions to join NUHW in February, but SEIU delayed the election by filing “frivolous charges,” which were rejected Tuesday by an NLRB regional board in Southern California.

However, a similar organizing effort in Northern California was stymied last April, when a regional NLRB board said NUHW couldn’t call for elections because a contract was in place.

SEIU has a very different take on the NLRB’s recent decision.

In its Dec. 2 news release, the Oakland-based UHW local said the NLRB decision “has put at risk the guaranteed raises, health care coverage, and pensions of Kaiser Permanente RNs, social workers, and professionals in Southern California.”

It could nullify current contracts covering the workers, which provide a 2 percent raise in April and include profit-sharing provisions that many workers are scheduled to benefit from early next year and again in 2011, SEIU said, and subject them to cuts in health coverage and pensions that Kaiser imposed elsewhere.

In all, each individual worker could lose as much as $15,000 in guaranteed income and benefits over the next two years, SEIU said, noting that the Southern California decision “runs counter” to the early April decision by NLRB in the northern part of the state.

SEIU/UHW said it will seek a review of the decision by the NLRB in Washington, D.C.

The new union was formed in January, when former leaders of SEIU’s United Healthcare Workers West unit left SEIU under fire and launched the rival group. It claims SEIU’s strategy links it too closely with employers and that its style is undemocratic; SEIU argues that former UHW head Sal Rosselli and his top lieutenants were ousted for transferring $3 million in union funds to an alleged slush fund, and “undermining” workers’ rights.

Rosselli’s new union says “a majority” of 100,000 workers at about 360 hospitals, clinics and nursing homes “have taken action to join NUHW, including more than 45,000 other Kaiser employees who are circulating a petition to quit SEIU next summer.”

Source: San Francisco Business Times