The Californian: Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital workers switch unions

NewsMay 18, 2010

By Kimber Solana

Caregivers at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital chose to switch unions following three weeks of voting, officials said Monday.

The group, which includes respiratory care practitioners, licensed vocational nurses, and nursing assistants, voted to join the National Union of Healthcare Workers and cut ties with the Service Employees International Union.

“We wanted to decide for us,” said Ernesto Gonzales, a nutrition service aide of 14 years experience who voted for the move. “We switched because [NUHW] are people that we know and trust. We didn’t want [SEIU] to take that away.”

Of the 858 eligible voters, officials said, 408 voted to switch to NUHW. About 240 votes went to SEIU, and another 13 members voted for “no union.”

The votes were counted Monday.

“This is disappointing,” said SEIU-United Healthcare Workers spokeswoman Adriana Surfas, “but this group of workers are in the minority [of SEIU UHW members overall].”

Other workers who’ve made the switch, including a group of 2,300 Kaiser employees in southern California, have had to renegotiate contracts and lost wage increases that SEIU had secured prior to the switch, Surfas said.

“This was a mistake,” said SEIU supporter Zedrick Zapata, a 24-year-old who said he’s worked at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital for four years as a patient transport and preparation aide. “SEIU, I knew that I could trust and my fellow co-workers could trust. NUHW has no resources and is actually in debt. It was a very risky decision.”

NUHW officials said the decision to move began in January 2009, when SEIU officials from Washington, D.C., took over California’s health-care union.

Members have said SEIU officials forced health-care workers out of elected positions and put themselves in charge. The changes led to the formation of NUHW by dozens of health-care workers.

“We wanted our union back,” Gonzales said.

But Surfas said that over the past 15 months, more than 70,000 members have voted to stay with SEIU-UHW. “It would have been even more if NUHW wasn’t blocking elections at other sites,” she said.

A majority of hospital workers petitioned earlier this year to join NUHW. California’s Public Employment Relations Board validated their petition, scheduled the dates for voting, and for the votes to be counted Monday.SVMH spokeswoman Adrienne Laurent said the hospital is looking forward to working with NUHW.

“We’ve always had good relationships with our unions, and we expect that to continue,” she said.

Source: the Californian