SEIU secures win
But NUHW chief vows to keep focus on Kaiser, may challenge results again
SEIU-United Healthcare Workers downplayed any threat posed by the National Union of Healthcare Workers last week before defeating their upstart rival a second time for the right to represent the 45,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente in California.
But an NUHW win in this do-over from the 2010 election could have delivered a substantial blow to SEIU’s West Coast operations. The Kaiser workers up for grabs in the election—employed at 27 major medical centers—bring in about $40 million in annual dues.
Behind the scenes, SEIU pulled organizers from outside the state and other resources from its 1.9 million members across the country. The incumbent SEIU spent $5 million on the campaign to retain the Kaiser workers.
NUHW has attacked SEIU for being too cooperative with Kaiser’s management. But SEIU’s size and dominance gives workers peace of mind that the feistier upstart couldn’t overcome, said Chris Cimino, CEO of Chessboard Consultants in Chicago. Now that SEIU leaders have secured victory at Kaiser, they’re free to turn their attentions to other labor matters across the U.S. “And that’s bad news for healthcare employers because they’ll be back, probably pestering them on their own home turf,” he said.
Last week, the National Labor Relations Board tallied 18,894 votes for SEIU and 13,001 votes for NUHW, while 334 voted for
“There’s a huge majority of (our) members at Kaiser that know they have the best jobs in the American healthcare industry.” — SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan
neither union. The unions have a seven-day period to challenge the results. NLRB officials called this the largest mail ballot election in the board’s history, supplanting the October 2010 Kaiser election. The board ordered the second election after NUHW disputed the first one, and it took the NLRB until February of this year to schedule the rematch, held April 5-May 1 via ballots mailed to the NLRB’s office in Oakland.
NUHW’s viability could be determined by how much support it receives from the California Nurses Association and its parent, National Nurses United—and in this case, that wasn’t enough. The nurses matched SEIU by pumping $5 million into NUHW’s campaign, said NUHW President Sal Rosselli.
NUHW argued in 2010 that Kaiser colluded with SEIU to ensure victory by threatening employees that they would withhold salary bonuses and other benefits if NUHW won the election. Rosselli said Kaiser and SEIU employed the same tactics this time, and NUHW may challenge the results again.
“We’re more united than ever with our focus on Kaiser,” he said. “We’ll be beating back their concession cuts in staffing, making sure we’re putting patients and the workers first over profits.”
Rosselli, a former SEIU-UHW president, formed NUHW in January 2009 with other ex-SEIU members after a power struggle with the union’s parent in Washington. He still has designs on organizing outside the state with the help of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United.
The CNA, though, damaged its reputation with hospitals by investing in NUHW, SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan said.
“There’s a huge majority of (our) members at Kaiser that know they have the best jobs in the American healthcare industry, and the idea that you would put that at risk, and put your future in the hands of an organization that’s completely failed at their stated goals makes no sense,” Regan said.
Kaiser officials remained quiet during the election. “As we have said and shown consistently, Kaiser Permanente is neutral in the vote between these two unions,” Kaiser spokesman John Nelson said in a statement Friday. “We supported the NLRB’s election process, and were pleased to have met our commitment to facilitate a fair representation election, on behalf of the Kaiser Permanente employees who work in the statewide unit.”
NUHW couldn’t match personnel with Washington-based SEIU. The Oaklandbased SEIU- UHW counts more than 150,000 healthcare workers as members, compared with about 8,600 members of NUHW, headquartered in Emeryville, Calif.