Some 43,000 union workers at Kaiser Permanente will get a second chance to vote on which union they wish to represent them after Federal Administrative Law Judge Lana H. Parke ruled that collusion between Kaiser and the current union SEIU-UHW “interfered with employees’ exercise of a free and reasoned choice” and that a new election must be held.
Last October workers voted to retain SEIU-UHW over a new insurgent union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers. NUHW was formed after the SEIU international undemocratically trusteed UHW and expelled the elected leadership after they had criticized SEIU’s “partnership agreement” with hospital chains and plans to move UHW home health-care workers into another state wide local.
The expelled officers, staff, and hundreds of shop stewards and activists in UHW formed NUHW and began petitioning decertification votes at UHW shops so the workers could vote for NUHW to be their bargaining agents.
What followed was a 20-month David versus Goliath campaign, with the underfunded, mostly volunteer organizing efforts of NUHW versus a multi-million-dollar mobilization of staff and resources by SEIU. Hundreds of SEIU organizers from across the country were sent to spread lies and fear to the Kaiser workers. Pro-NUHW elected shop stewards were removed from their posts.
SEIU not only had the advantage in resources, they also had the bosses on their side. Kaiser illegally assisted SEIU by spreading lies that changing unions would result in the loss of benefits, intimidating and harassing UHW supporters, and punishing smaller units that separately voted to join NUHW. Kaiser retaliated against those 2300 nurses and other professional employees for switching unions by withholding scheduled raises and other benefits. The combined SEIU Kaiser campaign eroded support for NUHW among a workforce filled with fear. In February 2009, 25,000 Kaiser workers signed pledges that they would vote to join NUHW. The final was 18,290 for SEIU, 11,364 for NUHW, and 365 for no union.
SEIU will certainly appeal the decision, but NUHW supporters are confident they will prevail in the courts and are preparing for an election to be held in 2012.
> The article above was written by David Bernt, and first appeared in the August 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.