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Working In These Times

Saturday, Nov 14, 2009, 8:37 am

Union Sparring in California Gets Even Uglier

BY Kari Lydersen

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The battle between SEIU and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) over organzing home healthcare workers in northern California got even uglier recently with charges filed alleging SEIU organizers intimidated and threatened workers and even told Latino workers they would be deported if they didn't vote for SEIU in a June election between the two unions. 

SEIU won the election to represent 10,000 home healthcare workers in Fresno, but NUHW is challenging the result in charges filed Nov. 6 with the California Public Employment Relations Board.

The charges cite a former SEIU organizer alleging he was pressured to change ballots from the June election between the two unions, and did change a ballot himself.

NUHW has also charged that SEIU local organizers told Latino workers they would be deported if they didn't vote for SEIU, and told workers their wages would be cut and they would lose their jobs or health insurance if they voted for NUHW. NUHW alleges SEIU organizers visited workers up to five times a day, banging aggressively on their doors, and otherwise intimidated and browbeat them.

An SEIU local official quoted in the Wall Street Journal called the charges untrue and "sour grapes." (See the charges here.)

The charges reference a speech by SEIU executive vice president Dave Regan at the Fresno fairgrounds on the eve of the election urging organizers to "drive a stake through their heart" and "bury them in the ground." 

The rift between NUHW and SEIU has been festering for several years since the precursor of the NUHW, an SEIU local called United Healthcare Workers West, was unhappy with a nursing home contract that limited workers' rights in exchange for employers' neutrality. (David Moberg explains the background in this January story in In These Times.) Thousands of workers then voted to decertify SEIU and join NUHW.

Home healthcare has also been a battlefield between SEIU and AFSCME in recent years. These divisions and battles come at a time unions can hardly afford negative publicity or diversion of resources, as Congress considers the Employee Free Choice Act.

Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based reporter, author and journalism professor at Medill at Northwestern University, where she is fellowship director of the Social Justice News Nexus. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her books include Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago's 99 Percent., Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun and Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover, and What it Says About the Economic Crisis.

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