SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit filed by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) against Kaiser Permanente for gross misconduct in two separate union elections may proceed.
The suit alleges that Kaiser violated the law in two elections between NUHW and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in 2010 and 2013 when it paid Kaiser employees who supported SEIU as “lost timers” to campaign against NUHW.
According to Judge William Alsup, the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) clearly seeks to avoid “a sweetheart cozy arrangement between the incumbent union boss and the company, for such arrangements persist at the expense of the workers.” The alleged agreement between Kaiser and SEIU, in which “Kaiser knowingly released lost-timers to SEIU-UHW to campaign against NUHW and paid them benefits and other things of value to campaign against NUHW,” constituted just such a “sweetheart cozy arrangement.”
“Yes, the employer likes doing business with such unions,” Alsup continued. “But indirect contributions as alleged here would violate the purpose of Section 302 ‘to prevent bribery, extortion, shakedowns, and other corrupt practices.’”
Judge Alsup refused to deem the lawsuit moot in light of the certification of the 2013 election between NUHW and SEIU because “(f)uture elections between SEIU-UHW and NUHW are likely and Kaiser’s allegedly unlawful conduct is capable of repetition.”
“It is reasonable to expect that this conduct — the exponential increase of lost-timers to campaign running up to a representation election — will be repeated,” Alsup wrote.
Judge Alsup, whose past rulings have not favored NUHW, appeared to find a great deal of merit in NUHW’s case against Kaiser. Kaiser’s arrangement with SEIU as described in NUHW’s suit, Alsup explained, is “tantamount to making cash campaign contributions to SEIU-UHW to assist SEIU-UHW in fending off the upstart rival NUHW.”
“No court has ever held that employers can pay employees under a collective bargaining agreement to campaign under the control of the incumbent union against a rival union,” Alsup wrote.
“Judge Alsup couldn’t be more correct in his characterization of the partnership between SEIU and Kaiser as a ‘sweetheart cozy arrangement,’” said Sal Rosselli, President of NUHW. “As Judge Alsup has noted, it’s plainly illegal for Kaiser to make the equivalent of cash contributions to its favored union, SEIU. In the labor movement, SEIU is what we call an illegal ‘company union.’ We’re glad to see Kaiser finally being held accountable to the law.”