After 16 months in legal limbo, workers will finally get elections to join NUHW
WASHINGTON—The federal National Labor Relations Board’s Office of Advice has issued a directive to the NLRB’s four California offices, recommending the final dismissal of charges that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has used to block fair union elections for more than 16 months. As a result of this decision, long-delayed elections may now be scheduled within a matter of weeks for thousands of California healthcare workers.
In early 2009, tens of thousands of healthcare workers signed petitions to quit the scandal-plagued SEIU and join a new union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). However, federal authorities failed to schedule elections until charges brought by SEIU could be reviewed.
“It should be a crime that SEIU has been able to take away our right to vote for so long,” said Helen York-Jones, a cashier in food services at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. “You can’t have fair elections when one side gets to choose who can and can’t vote. We’re voting NUHW to bring back democracy and member control in our union.”
The labor board will likely offer SEIU the opportunity to withdraw their charges before they are officially rejected by the board, and SEIU is expected to comply in an attempt to save face.
NUHW vindicated by rejection of SEIU’s claims
SEIU used a number of fraudulent claims to drag out the labor board’s process and stall workers’ elections:
- The board rejected SEIU’s claim that NUHW’s contract negotiators, in their former role as the leaders of UHW, held off on agreeing to contracts with employers in order to make sure members would keep their right to change unions after SEIU’s hostile takeover in January 2009.
- The board rejected SEIU’s claim that NUHW staff, in their former role as the staff of UHW, had stacked the deck against SEIU by “sabotaging” their former union and gathering petitions before they were removed by SEIU’s takeover.
- The board rejected SEIU’s claim that NUHW was “dominated by employers” because of a donation from Democratic political strategist Clint Reilly to the Fund for Union Democracy and Reform, a legal defense fund that supported NUHW.
Justice delayed, justice denied
SEIU was not successful in disenfranchising all healthcare workers who petitioned for elections. Over the past year, a handful of elections were authorized by state and federal labor boards, most have been landslide victories for NUHW, with more than 5,000 workers at hospitals, nursing homes, and Kaiser Permanente joining the independent union.
Still, SEIU’s abuse of the labor board’s process has had serious consequences. SEIU has spent millions of dollars over the last 16 months on a campaign of intimidation and misinformation designed to scare workers out of joining NUHW.
Only last week, the NLRB impounded ballots in an election at O’Connor Hospital in San Jose because the employer illegally gave support to SEIU after officials negotiated a sweetheart contract with takeaways on worker healthcare benefits and job security protections. And workers at many Bay Area nursing homes—where yearly turnover can approach 100%—lost their right to vote entirely because they were unable to wait 16 months for an election.
The battles ahead
Within weeks, the labor board is expected to schedule union elections for tens of thousands of healthcare workers to join NUHW, including workers at Kaiser Permanente, California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, Children’s Hospital in Oakland, Seton Medical Center in Daly City, and Providence Tarzana Medical Center in Los Angeles County.
At Kaiser Permanente, the labor board’s action unblocks elections for 1,500 workers who have already filed majority petitions to join NUHW, and paves the way for an election this summer by 45,000 more Kaiser workers who will petition for their election within weeks.
“It’s been a long time coming, and we’re thrilled that we have this chance to take back our union,” said Dannielle Estrada, a coder at Kaiser Downey in Los Angeles. “SEIU won’t stand in our way any longer.”
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The National Union of Healthcare Workers is California’s fastest-growing union, representing caregivers in every job classification. More than 100,000 workers in hospitals, nursing homes, and Kaiser Permanente facilities have petitioned for elections to join NUHW and win a strong, democratic voice at work. | NUHW.org