SEIU cut a back room deal with Kaiser, I was there

June 8th, 2012

My name is Sophia Sims. I’ve worked at Kaiser Panorama City since 2003, and before that at Woodland Hills since 1988. Until last week, I was a member of SEIU-UHW’s Executive Board. I also served on SEIU’s bargaining team for the contract we’re currently voting on.

After reading the language in the Tentative Agreement on cuts to our retiree health benefits, the partnership tax, the increased wage gap between North and South, the elimination of local bargaining and the agreement to hand over our personal information to management as part of the wellness program, many of our co-workers are asking what happened in bargaining.

I can tell you. I was there.

When I joined the bargaining committee, I thought it would be like it was when the leaders of NUHW ran our union. I thought that members would make the decisions about what went into our contract, and that we’d fight for the best deal we could get instead of the deal that helped Kaiser’s bottom line.

I was wrong. What I witnessed at the bargaining table was so serious that I have since stepped down from both the bargaining committee and the SEIU-UHW Executive Board, and have resigned from my position as an SEIU steward.

When SEIU officials bargained the worst parts of this deal, rank-and-file bargaining team members were NOT present. All the real bargaining was done behind closed doors between union officials like Dave Regan and John August and Kaiser management, with the details and agreements kept secret from us. Your co-workers who you elected to serve on SEIU’s bargaining team were left waiting in a separate room, and were not told what happened in those closed door meetings.

When SEIU took over our union, the leaders of NUHW warned us that our right to bargain our own contract would be taken away from us. Like many of my co-workers, I didn’t believe it. But now that I’ve served on SEIU-UHW’s bargaining committee, I’ve seen it for myself.

We weren’t told at the time, but now that NUHW has published the tentative agreements, we know exactly what SEIU officials gave away to Kaiser in those back room deals. This contract takes Kaiser workers backwards at a time when Kaiser is making billions of dollars in profits:  

  • SEIU agreed to reduce the healthcare coverage we receive after retiring by giving Kaiser a cap on our retiree health benefit that will affect all workers, including those already retired  
  • SEIU agreed that workers will pay a partnership tax of 9 cents per hour, per worker, for every hour worked  
  • SEIU allowed the wage gap between workers in Northern and Southern California to increase. Currently workers in Southern California make 10% to 15% less than workers in comparable classifications.  
  • SEIU gave up our right to local bargaining  
  • SEIU agreed to report our health and lifestyle choices to management and to allow Kaiser to monitor our weight gain, our smoking habits and our cholesterol levels  

It is important to understand that once benefits are given away, it is very, very difficult to win them back.

You don’t have to take my word for it, you can read SEIU’s giveaways to Kaiser here, and then watch a video by NUHW Kaiser Director Ralph Cornejo to fully understand why this contract is a bad deal for Kaiser workers. So bad, in fact, that I gave up my position on the UHW Executive Board to protest it.

With Kaiser making billions in profits, I expected to see progress for Southern California workers, not giveaways that take all of us backwards. If a member of SEIU-UHW’s own bargaining team wasn’t included in the process what does that tells us about how much trust to put in what SEIU is telling rank and file workers about the tentative agreements?

SEIU can’t be trusted. That’s why I’m proud to say that I’ve resigned my post with SEIU and thrown my support to NUHW, a union that stands up for workers instead of lying down for Kaiser.

Sincerely,


Sophia Sims, Ward Clerk, Kaiser Panorama City
National Union of Healthcare Workers