LA Hospital Vote Deals Blow to SEIU (Updated)

Emily Udell

At least two bargaining units at LA Medical Center vote for NUHW

An indication of the state of the ongoing battle between Service Employees International Union and the upstart National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) emerged today, as some votes of healthcare workers at a Los Angeles hospital were tallied.

Labor Notes reports that nurses at Kaiser Permanente’s Los Angeles Medical Center voted 746 to 36 for NUHW, while a smaller unit voted 189-26 for the same union. A third vote count will likely be announced before the end of the day. The decision of workers could signal that some 47,000 other workers throughout the state might follow suit.

Calling the results disappointing,” Steve Trossman, communications director of the SEIU – United Healthcare Workers-West, said: The fact is only about 2,600 SEIU-UHW members have chosen NUHW over the past year, in contrast to more than 55,000 SEIU members who have chosen to stay united in our union.”

Tessie Costales, a registered nurse at the LA hospital and a supporter of NUHW, yesterday told the Los Angeles Times:

We want a democratic union where there is member involvement in determining what is safe and good for our patients, and what is safe and good for our members.

Costales is among 2,000 workers in southern California that are voting this month on whether to oust SIEU in favor of the breakaway NUHW. SEIU represents about 150,000 healthcare workers in California, and some 2.2 million workers nationwide.

As we blogged about here a month ago, there’s been a contentious battle raging between the SEIU and NUHW for some time now. Last year SEIU put its California unions into trusteeship, citing financial irregularities, but a disagreement about strategy had been brewing behind the scenes for some time.

In its first battle with NUHW, last summer, SEIU narrowly won the right to continue representing some 10,000 Fresno homecare workers. But in December, nearly 700 workers at the non-union Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital voted 283-13 to join NUHW rather than SEIU.

NUHW officials claim SEIU has negotiated backdoor deals with employers, cleaned out local officers and engaged in other unsavory actions since the beginning of the trusteeship. SEIU has accused NUHW of using divisive tactics, casting aspersions on the larger union and lying to its members.

Valentine Granados, an Environmental Services worker at O’Connor Hospital in San Jose, said in an SEIU release last week:

NUHW officials will say anything and do anything if they think it will get our vote. It’s time for them to get out of our facilities and out of our lives and let us continue building the strong union we need in SEIU-UHW.

But according a story published yesterday on the online San Francisco-based publication Beyond Chron, many” SEIU members who work at Kaiser are up in arms over a deal the union struck that reduced retirement pensions.” But SEIU spokeswoman Adriana Surfas says that Kaiser was forced to make changes changes to its pension plans due to federal law, which requires plans to be funded at a certain level. (The fund has fallen due to stock market losses; this PDF document from the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions offers a full explanation.)

This is something that was required by the federal government that Kaiser could have done on its own,” Surfas said Tuesday, noting that discussions between Kaiser and SEIU are ongoing. Bargaining for a new national contract between the 100,000-member union coalition and Kaiser will begin later this year.

CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION: The original version of this post said that workers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital chose to leave SEIU for NUHW. In fact, they were nonunionized workers before voting to join NUHW. It also said that Salinas Valley Hospital workers chose NUHW over SEIU. In fact, SEIU members there have only filed a petition with California’s Public Employment Relations Board to have an election to vote on possibly changing unions. That election has not yet been scheduled.

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Emily Udell is a writer for Angie’s List Magazine in Indianapolis. In 2009, she finished a stint drinking bourbon and covering breaking news for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. Her eclectic media career also includes time at the Associated Press, Punk Planet (R.I.P.), The Daily Southtown in southwest Chicago, and Radio Prague in the Czech Republic. She co-hosted and co-produced In These Times’ radio show Fire on the Prairie” from 2003 to 2006.
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