In Ballots Counted Today, Medical Social Workers Vote with Largest Unit of Kaiser Workers to Keep SEIU-UHW and Contract, Bringing Total Number to 43,975 Out of 47,743
OAKLAND, CA – In the last round of union elections at Kaiser Permanente, 92% of Kaiser workers have now voted for representation by Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) over the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). In ballots counted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) today in the three remaining bargaining units to vote, 375 medical social workers voted for SEIU-UHW, joining the 43,600 technical and service workers who did so last month while 368 optical workers and 1,100 behavioral health workers voted for NUHW.
At Kaiser, 43,975 of 47,743 workers have now voted to keep SEIU-UHW, the union that has represented healthcare workers at Kaiser for more than 65 years.
Today’s vote represents a critical victory for medical social workers, who like the technical and service workers whose ballots were counted last month, will retain a contract that guarantees 9% raises and no increased costs for family healthcare benefits over the next three years. Union election results for the technical and service workers were announced by the NLRB on October 7: 18,290 (61%) voted for SEIU-UHW while only 11,364 (37.8%) voted for NUHW, with 365 (1.2%) voting no union.
The results of the three units are: medical social workers, 148 for SEIU-UHW, 139 for NUHW, 6 challenges and 0 voting no union; optical workers, 154 for NUHW, 142 for SEIU-UHW, 0 voting no union; and Integrated Behavioral Health Services (IBHS) workers, 603 for NUHW, 196 for SEIU-UHW, 2 challenges and 7 voting no union.
“Choosing to stay united in SEIU-UHW, keeping our contract and benefits was the right choice,” said Rachelle Heartte, MSW, ASW, who works at Kaiser Vallejo. “Now we can move forward as part of the Labor-Management Partnership at Kaiser and focus on providing excellent patient care.”
The optical and behavioral health services workers who chose NUHW now face long odds for regaining the raises and benefit protections in the SEIU-UHW contract, which they now have to re-negotiate. Three small but similar groups of RNs and professional workers in Southern California who chose NUHW 10 months ago have made little progress toward bargaining a contract. They have been fighting a protracted legal battle since April just to get a 2% raise that all SEIU-UHW members received, are facing the loss of their annual bonuses, have lost their arbitration rights, and are facing healthcare and other takeaways at the bargaining table.
NUHW is led by former SEIU-UHW leaders who were removed from office in January 2009 for misusing millions of members’ dues money. Following its devastating loss in the election for 43,600 service and technical workers in October and now 375 medical social workers at Kaiser, NUHW faces internal turmoil, millions of dollars of debt, and defections of staff, members, and supporters that now raise questions about the union’s future viability–and the livelihoods of the workers who have voted for NUHW without seeing any progress.
The situation facing NUHW points to an organization in trouble:
- NUHW has still not been able to negotiate a single contract for any of the roughly 5,000 members it represented prior to today’s Kaiser election, and it faces concessions in mostly dormant negotiations with Kaiser.
- In a federal court filing, the National Labor Relations Board, as part of its claim that Kaiser committed Unfair Labor Practices, laid out these problems and went on to write:
“Unit employees have expressed their regret in selecting the NUHW and some have embarked on a campaign to oust the Union. The number of employees who are voluntarily paying union dues has decreased significantly.”
- Open warfare has emerged between union members in the Kaiser RN unit in Southern California and Rosselli and other NUHW officials. Members had to hire an attorney to force Rosselli and NUHW to live up to promises they made prior to the nurses voting for NUHW [http://www.seiu-uhw.org/hirelawyer], and recently NUHW tried and failed to oust the RN unit’s president, Leila Valdivia [http://www.seiu-uhw.org/recall], who is now vowing to decertify NUHW in February, the earliest the law allows them to vote out NUHW.
- NUHW is millions of dollars in debt and will be forced to use members’ dues to pay it off. At minimum, the union and its top staff owe more than $2 million to the California Nurses Association and a nearly $1.8 million federal court judgment to SEIU-UHW. In an Oct. 8 article in the legal publication The Daily Journal, NUHW’s attorney, Dan Siegel of San Francisco, acknowledged the debt and said current and future members of NUHW would have to pay it off.
- NUHW was fined $2,500 and sharply rebuked by U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup Oct. 22 for hiding key union financial records and for defying a court order to provide sworn testimony as to the location of $265,000 in unaccounted-for NUHW funds. NUHW’s lawyer Dan Siegel stated in court that the judgment put NUHW in such financial distress that the union engaged in what Siegel admitted was a “deliberate scheme” to pull all of NUHW’s funds out of its bank accounts and turn the funds over to Siegel’s law firm. One of Siegel’s law partners then began signing NUHW’s checks and controlling its finances in place of NUHW’s appointed interim President Sal Rosselli or other NUHW officers.
- Workers who attended a November 6 NUHW meeting reported that NUHW leaders made a fundraising plea for workers to donate an hour of pay a month and recruit others to do so or “the organization cannot stay afloat.”
- NUHW’s top staff person in Southern California has now left and several of their top Northern California staff are actively and openly seeking jobs. Barbara Lewis, who directed NUHW’s work in hospitals in the Los Angeles area, has left to take a job with the United Nurses Association of California (UNAC). In the north, several top NUHW officials are openly sending resumes to other unions, and a number of lower-level staff have sought to return to staff jobs at SEIU-UHW.
- In lead-up to the Kaiser elections, SEIU-UHW members had rejected NUHW at more than 50 other hospitals, nursing homes, and in counties that employ SEIU-UHW members as home care providers. NUHW’s rejection by an overwhelming majority of workers at Kaiser – the largest and most prestigious healthcare system in the state – will have a major influence on any future elections. It will undermine NUHW’s ability to appeal to other healthcare workers who see Kaiser as the flagship for healthcare workers in California.
With elections at Kaiser over, more than 126,000 of SEIU-UHW’s 150,000 members have now chosen which of the two unions to join, and more than 121,000 – 96% – have decided to stay in SEIU-UHW.
Prior to the Kaiser elections, many union experts and labor professors were questioning why a group like NUHW would spend resources and cause SEIU to spend resources trying to decertify workers who already have a strong union. Given the state of the labor movement, down to just 7% of private sector workers, NUHW’s focus on trying to decertify unionized workers does nothing to build the bigger and stronger labor movement workers need to improve their lives, they say.
SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (SEIU-UHW) is the largest healthcare union in the western U.S. with more than 150,000 members. SEIU-UHW is part of the 2.2 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU).