San Leandro Times: Kindred Hospital nurses picket

NewsApril 15, 2009

By Amy Sylvestri

Dozens of nurses picketed in front of Kindred Hospital last week, chanting, “Ready to fight? Damn Right!” and waving signs. But the nurses weren’t disputing their salaries or contracts — they were protesting their own union.

The nurses organized the demonstration in order to highlight their struggle with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which they accuse of ignoring them and unfairly sanctioning workers.

The SEIU is the largest union in California and merged with the United Healthcare Workers (UHW) late last year. Since then, many Kindred employees say they feel their union isn’t properly representing them. They now wish to join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

“We are trying to get management to acknowledge us as a new union,” said Anita Cook, a nurse who organized the protest. Cook said she has been harassed and suspended without cause because of her suport for the new union.

“We send the SEIU millions in unions dues and that’s all we are to them, money,” said Cook. “We have no real vote and no real voice.”

John Borsos, a representative for NUHW that used to work with SEIU-UHW, also walked the picket line.

“The caregivers here have petitioned to be represented by us because their current union is no longer acting in their best interests,” said Borsos. “Unions are supposed to operate under the decisions of workers, not hospitals.”

Most of the eighty nurses that work at the rehabilitation hospital have signed a petition saying they want to switch to NUHW, according to Cook.

The next step will be to bring the dispute in front of the National Labor Relations Board. Both the SEIU-UHW and the NUHW have filed unfair labor practice complaints against each other with the board, but no date has been scheduled for a hearing.

Until the board makes its decision, the nurses cannot vote about which union they want, so the mater is now in a stalemate.

SEIU spokeswoman Jennifer Kelly, who is based in L.A., said that she wasn’t familiar enough with the San Leandro nurses to comment on the situation, but she confirmed that a similar petition by Kaiser nurses in Oakland was dismissed last week.

“On April 7, the National Labor Relations Board dismissed the Kaiser nurses seeking to decertify with the SEIU-UHW and move to the NUHW,” said Kelly.

The Kindred Hospital itself is not involved in the union dispute. In a written statement, Kindred spokesman Eric Benmour said that the hospital supports the nurses, they don’t care which union they choose, but only hope the dispute will be resolved as soon as possible.

“We value our employees and their contributions to our hospital and the care they provide to our patients in a daily basis,” said Benmour. “Kindred Hospital has no dispute with the NUHW.

The NUHW’s dispute is with the SEIU, not Kindred Hospital. We are disappointed that the NUHW has decided to picket Kindred and disturb our patients.”

Source: San Leandro Times