Merged union girds for bat­tle

NUHW, CNA aim for Kaiser work­ers from SEIU

Modern Healthcare - - THE WEEK IN HEALTHCARE - Ashok Selvam

The Na­tional Union of Health­care Work­ers and the Cal­i­for­nia Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion want to rally work­ers to take a more ag­gres­sive stance in col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, and to do that, they’re ready to tear down the re­la­tion­ships its ri­val Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union has built with some large health sys­tems.

Of­fi­cials from the two Cal­i­for­nia unions de­scribe their merger as a step to­ward be­com­ing a na­tional foil to SEIU. But it may not mean much un­less the NUHW wins its bid to poach 43,000 Kaiser Per­ma­nente work­ers from SEIU—United Health­care Work­ers West. NUHW now rep­re­sents only 4,000 work­ers at Kaiser hos­pi­tals.

NUHW Sec­re­tary-Trea­surer John Bor­sos said the elec­tion will be held in the spring.

An af­fil­i­a­tion agree­ment an­nounced this month brings to­gether NUHW’s 10,000 mem­bers in Cal­i­for­nia with the 85,000 mem­bers of the Cal­i­for­nia Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion.

The elec­tion would be a redo. NUHW filed a com­plaint be­fore the Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Board al­leg­ing Kaiser gave SEIU pre­ferred treat­ment in 2010 la­bor elec­tions when SEIU-UHW won. The NLRB since or­dered an­other elec­tion. A Kaiser spokesman said in an e-mail that the sys­tem “re­mains sup­port­ive of our em­ploy­ees’ choice in this mat­ter, and is en­tirely neu­tral in the dis­pute be­tween NUHW and SEIU-UHW.”

Christo­pher Cimino, CEO of Chicagob­ased Chess­board Con­sult­ing, said there is a fi­nan­cial an­gle to the con­test.

“If they don’t end up get­ting those Kaiser em­ploy­ees, this is all about get­ting (Na­tional Nurses United Pres­i­dent RoseAnn DeMoro’s) money back,” he said. The agree­ment calls for re­pay­ment of $2 mil­lion bor­rowed from the nurses’ union in 2009 when some of­fi­cers and or­ga­niz­ers split from SEIU-UHW to form NUHW. “This be­comes less of a sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ment if they don’t have that 43,000,” Cimino said.

Bor­sos main­tained the agree­ment was about more than money—giv­ing health­care work­ers a uni­fied voice. NUHW of­fi­cials said they hope to for­mally ally with NNU in the fu­ture to form a na­tional su­pe­runion of sorts.

“SEIU is try­ing to fig­ure out how to change the sub­ject on this very pow­er­ful al­liance be­tween two very pro­gres­sive, strong and united or­ga­ni­za­tions that are united to take on em­ploy­ers like Kaiser and SEIU-UHW in Cal­i­for­nia,” Bor­sos said.

SEIU-UHW isn’t threat­ened by the for­ti­fied NUHW and is con­fi­dent about the Kaiser elec­tion, SEIU-UHW spokesman Steve Tross­man said: “We feel we’re in a strong po­si­tion this time.”

SEIU’s health­care mem­ber­ship in­cludes 150,000 in Cal­i­for­nia and 2 mil­lion na­tion­wide, in­clud­ing nurses, phar­ma­cists, house­keep­ers and other health­care work­ers. They’ve en­joyed sig­nif­i­cant success with Kaiser. The union ne­go­ti­ated 3% an­nual salary in­creases for the next two years in a con­tract that both sides her­alded. Kaiser touts the con­tract as part of its Na­tional La­bor Man­age­ment Agree­ment, which in­cluded 29 lo­cal unions and nearly 100,000 work­ers.

That achieve­ment was a re­sult of care­ful work build­ing trust and a more col­lab­o­ra­tive re­la­tion­ship with hos­pi­tals, said Stephanie Dodge Gour­nis, a la­bor at­tor­ney with Drinker, Bid­dle & Reath in Chicago. Neu­tral­ity agree­ments be­tween SEIU-UHW and sys­tems such as Kaiser have called for ton­ing down rhetoric in ex­change for or­ga­niz­ing sup­port from hospi­tal brass.

The success of that ap­proach might make it dif­fi­cult for a united NNU and NUHW to make gains with a more an­tag­o­nis­tic style, char­ac­ter­ized by strikes and ag­gres­sive rhetoric, Gour­nis said. “In this new world of health­care re­form, we really need all hands on deck and work col­lab­o­ra­tively on how do we han­dle this new world from staffing, pa­tient care,” she said.

Hos­pi­tals’ ag­gres­sive ef­forts to cut costs are driv­ing more union ac­tiv­ity as they ask work­ers for pay cuts and other con­ces­sions, Cimino said. SEIUUHW drew in­sults from ri­val unions last year by tak­ing a neu­tral stance on the Cal­i­for­nia Hospi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion’s cam­paign to amend a state law that man­dates nurse-staffing ra­tios and al­low hos­pi­tals to sus­pend the ra­tios dur­ing meals and breaks.

Ac­cept­ing con­ces­sions may have led to quick res­o­lu­tions and la­bor deals with SEIUUHW mem­bers at Kaiser and other hos­pi­tals, but that could back­fire, Cimino said. “The ques­tion for SEIU is, how much are they will­ing to give?” Cimino added. “I think (NNU’s) DeMoro un­der­stands con­ces­sions weaken their abil­ity to grow her union, and that’s one of the rea­sons she say­ing, ‘no way, we’re not giv­ing an inch.’ ”

SEIU last March bro­kered a deal with the CHA that al­lowed the as­so­ci­a­tion to in­tro­duce union mem­bers to hospi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tors in ex­change for the union drop­ping its sup­port of two elec­tion bal­lot items that tar­geted hos­pi­tals. SEIU of­fi­cials tout that as a way they are will­ing to work with hos­pi­tals to make work­ing con­di­tions bet­ter for their con­stituents— Bor­sos said it “demon­strates that SEIU is in bed with hospi­tal man­age­ment.”

A spokes­woman for the CHA said the agree­ment was about im­prov­ing the health of Cal­i­for­ni­ans and not about hos­pi­tals tak­ing sides with a par­tic­u­lar union. She de­clined to com­ment on the new CNA-NUHW al­liance or the Kaiser elec­tion. “This is an in­ter-union bat­tle,” she said.

Kaiser em­ploy­ees strike in May 2011 over a con­tract im­passe af­ter 1,100 nurses switched to NUHW in Jan­uary 2010.

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