SEIU se­cures win

But NUHW chief vows to keep fo­cus on Kaiser, may chal­lenge re­sults again

Modern Healthcare - - LATE NEWS - Ashok Sel­vam

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.

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