Stockton Record: Kaiser union battle draws pickets

NewsMay 28, 2009

Tamika Edwards, a nine-year Stockton Kaiser employee, joins colleagues picketing outside Kaiser’s West Lane campus Wednesday.By Joe Goldeen

STOCKTON – More than 100 Kaiser Permanente employees took to the hot sidewalks surrounding the health care provider’s massive West Lane complex Wednesday afternoon to protest what they say are Kaiser’s unfair attempts to stop them from organizing and joining a new union.

The red T-shirt-clad demonstrators – medical assistants, licensed vocational nurses, radiology technicians, member services employees and others – want to leave their existing union – SEIU-UHW, the Oakland-based local of the Service Employees International Union – and vote to join a new group, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, or NUHW.

Kaiser, in a statement handed out to some of its 165,000 county members who visited its campus Wednesday, said it “is not a party in this dispute. We have not, and cannot, take sides in this matter, or any disagreement between unions.”

Kaiser spokesman Rob Veneski said, “NUHW does not represent any Kaiser Permanente employees, and it appears that the activity (Wednesday in Stockton) is part of a dispute between NUHW and SEIU-UHW, a union that represents more than 50,000 KP employees in California.”

NUHW supporters such as Robert Nevarez and Tamika Edwards, both longtime Stockton Kaiser employees, expressed sadness in the way they say Kaiser has treated them since they started standing up for the new union and said they no longer want to be represented by SEIU-UHW. They disputed Kaiser’s statement.

“We strongly disagree that Kaiser is neutral in this. We are forced to pay dues – $72.90 a month – to SEIU, a union that is not working in the best interest of the worker. We’re here to make sure everybody knows about it,” said Nevarez, a medical assistant for 10 years. He said Kaiser has not allowed him to withhold his automatic dues payment to SEIU-UHW from his paycheck, despite several attempts to do so, citing federal rules.

“We used to take pride in the labor management partnership between Kaiser and the union, but that has gone away,” said Edwards, who has worked in member services for nine years.

“They do pride themselves on being the best place to work, the best place for care. They should have stayed neutral, because now that’s no longer true. The patient ultimately suffers,” Edwards said.

NUHW activist Jeff Taylor, a five-year Kaiser employee, said the Kaiser Stockton workplace has become “very chaotic. Kaiser is mistreating its workers and not protecting their rights. It is favoring SEIU, because SEIU won’t fight for better wages and worker rights. We just want Kaiser to back off workers and let us organize. They should not be breathing down our backs.”

Taylor said the NUHW has the support of more than 80 percent of Stockton’s 800-plus union workers.

SEIU-UHW spokesman Pete Janhunen said the relationship between his union and Kaiser is healthy and very effective, and the NUHW has yet to prove it has any support beyond those who came out Wednesday afternoon to demonstrate.

Source: Stockton Record