Two of the most powerful unions in the healthcare industry join forces to help workers halt erosion of contract standards everywhere
OAKLAND — Four years ago, thousands of healthcare workers in California set out to reverse the steady erosion of union power in their industry by founding a principled and assertive new organization, the National Union of Healthcare Workers. In the short time since, NUHW has become the fastest-growing healthcare union in the country, counting 10,000 members and spanning every job classification in the hospital and nursing home sectors. At a time when workers throughout the country have lost ground in the face of unprecedented attacks from business interests and anti-union politicians in places like Wisconsin and Michigan, and as healthcare unions from New York to California have capitulated to employers demanding draconian cuts to wages, benefits, job protections and union rights, NUHW members have held the line against reductions to their contract standards by engaging in aggressive fights with hospital corporations, including massive statewide strikes.
An Affiliation Whose Time Has Come
Now, as a new year begins, NUHW members are doubling down on the strategy of defiance that has set their record of achievement apart from the downward trajectory of workplace and patient safety standards in the unionized healthcare sector by formally affiliating with the California Nurses Association (CNA), a union that shares NUHW’s commitment to defending workers and patients against rapacious hospital corporations instead of collaborating with them. The healthcare industry’s two most militant unions will work together as a single organization to lift contract standards for healthcare workers nationwide and to provide union members with an alternative to the failed labor-management partnerships that consistently sacrifice their livelihoods to the prerogative of corporate profits.
“This is an affiliation whose time has come,” said Sal Rosselli, President of NUHW. “CNA and NUHW share the same philosophy: unions should be about empowering workers, raising contract standards and making the healthcare industry more responsive to patient needs. CNA has been a national leader in mandating nurse-to-patient ratios to keep patients safe, and in organizing RNs into a fighting force for patient care. NUHW has been a leader in organizing caregivers to fight against cuts from healthcare corporations intent on increasing profits at workers’ expense. Both CNA and NUHW are at the forefront of the fight to make sure the labor movement is about fighting for workers, not partnering with employers. Together, CNA and NUHW are capable of transforming the face of the labor movement and the healthcare industry.”
A Critical Time for Kaiser Workers
The NUHW-CNA affiliation comes at an especially crucial time for workers at Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest hospital corporations in the country. With their RN co-workers in the CNA, NUHW members at Kaiser have engaged in repeated statewide strikes in California to stand their ground against threatened reductions to wages, benefits and job protections that other unions at Kaiser have already agreed to in spite of four years of record profits by the HMO. Because of their demonstrated unity, Kaiser NUHW members have not been forced to accept a single contract concession, and no NUHW member has had their position slated for elimination even while Kaiser management has forced layoffs on 1,000 workers throughout the state. Meanwhile, 43,000 service and technical workers at Kaiser’s 32 California hospitals are currently organizing to join their co-workers in NUHW in an election expected in the early part of this year.
With this new affiliation, NUHW members at Kaiser will have an infusion of new resources to win a fair contract with no reductions to their wages, benefits and job protections, and Kaiser workers organizing to join NUHW will have both new resources and an expanded cadre of skilled staff organizers who are experts in healthcare issues to help them win their election.
A National Union Entirely of Healthcare Workers
Though unionization of the healthcare industry has been a reality since the 1930s, the dream of a national industrial union composed exclusively of healthcare workers, combining nurses with workers in dozens of other job classifications in hospitals and nursing homes, has until now been elusive.
The NUHW-CNA affiliation combines two unions whose sole focus is patient care and brings under a single umbrella the diversity of workers who function together as a team in the healthcare setting.
“Whether you’re an RN, LVN, Unit Clerk, Social Worker or Respiratory Therapist, it takes a team of healthcare workers to provide high quality care,” said Yolanda Chavez, a Licensed Vocational Nurse at Kaiser Oakland who is currently organizing to join NUHW-CNA. “It makes sense for all of us to look out for our common interests by uniting in NUHW-CNA.”
“As an NUHW member, I’m proud to belong to a union with just one focus: healthcare workers,” said Joe Zakar, a Pharmacist at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital. “We know our union’s leaders are experts in our industry and we know our dues aren’t being diverted to things that have nothing to do with us.”
As part of NUHW-CNA, NUHW members will join the 13 million workers who belong to the AFL-CIO.
With 10,000 healthcare workers in fewer than four years, NUHW is the nation’s fastest growing healthcare workers’ union with a proven track record of defending strong patient care contract standards. CNA represents 85,000 RNs in California and was a founder of the 185,000-strong National Nursed United, the nation’s largest union of nurses.