San Francisco Sentinel: 50,000 Kaiser Permanente caregivers file to leave SEIU, join National Union of Healthcare Workers

NewsFebruary 27, 2009

An absolute majority of the 50,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente’s California facilities have filed petitions to oust SEIU and join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

Kaiser is California’s largest healthcare corporation and the largest healthcare provider in the United States.

“We need stability, democracy, and a union we can trust,” said Bebs Nonato, a registered nurse at Kaiser’s Los Angeles Medical Center.

“SEIU tried to move nurses at my hospital back and forth between three different local unions in five years. They pushed us around like furniture, and ignored our voices and votes. We’re building a stronger union in NUHW, with healthcare workers in control.”

Until today’s filing, Kaiser workers were represented by local union SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (SEIU UHW-W).

The local union’s elected leaders helped Kaiser caregivers win the highest wage and benefit standards in the country, safer staffing levels, and a stronger voice to advocate for their patients.

Workers’ most recent contract with Kaiser is the best healthcare union contract in the nation, and agreements with several other healthcare companies link caregivers’ pay to the Kaiser contract’s standard-setting wage scales.

Despite these accomplishments, national SEIU officials seized control of the local union on Jan. 27 to retaliate against members who had blown the whistle on corruption and undemocratic practices within SEIU. SEIU fired Kaiser workers’ elected leaders, took control of workers’ relationship with their employer, and established rigged voting rules for bargaining that allowed local unions with only 4,500 Kaiser workers to outvote the 50,000 Kaiser workers in California.

NUHW was founded by the elected leaders of the local union after SEIU’s hostile takeover, and thousands of caregivers have flocked to join the independent union for a stronger voice on the job and a more democratic voice in their union.

In less than a month, almost 80,000 workers at more than 380 facilities—a majority of SEIU UHW-W’s members—have already petitioned for recognition of NUHW as their union.

“We’re joining NUHW because it’s the only way to protect the gains that Kaiser workers have made together over the last 65 years,” said Mell Garcia, a medical assistant at Kaiser in Hayward.

“If we’d stayed in SEIU we would have no voice at all. Workers should have a free choice to join a union, and we should have a free choice to change our union if it’s stopped representing the interests of healthcare workers and our patients.”

Today’s petitions include caregivers at 32 Kaiser medical centers and more than 200 clinics across the state, including: Anaheim, Antioch, Baldwin Park, Bellflower, Fontana, Fremont, Fresno, Hayward, KPPACC, Los Angeles, Manteca, Martinez, Modesto, Oakland, Panorama City, Redwood City, Richmond, Riverside, Roseville, Sacramento, San Canyon, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, San Rafael, Santa Clara, Santa Rosa, South Bay, South Sacramento, South San Francisco, Vallejo, Walnut Creek, West Los Angeles, and Woodland Hills.

Source: San Francisco Sentinel