Election Puts Future of Rival Union NUHW in Question
OAKLAND, Calif., Oct. 7 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Members of the Service Employees International Union–United Healthcare Workers-West (SEIU-UHW) at Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics across California have voted overwhelmingly to remain in their union, dealing a stinging defeat to the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) in the largest private sector union election in the United States since 1941.
The results – 18,290 (61%) for SEIU-UHW, 11,364 (37.8%) for NUHW, and 365 (1.2%) voting no union – were announced Thursday, October 7 by the National Labor Relations Board after a two-day count of mail-in ballots.
"Now we can put the internal division behind us and look forward to a bright future doing what we do best--taking care of patients at Kaiser Permanente," said Danielle Gabison, an appointment clerk at Kaiser Woodland Hills. "We worked hard for the raises, good healthcare benefits and job security we enjoy and now we can focus on making Kaiser an even better place to work and receive care."
SEIU-UHW has represented more than 43,000 caregivers at Kaiser Permanente in California for more than 65 years. NUHW filed the petition with the NLRB that triggered the mail ballot election. NUHW is led by former SEIU-UHW leaders who were removed from office in January 2009 for misusing members' dues money.
Across the state, SEIU-UHW members are calling on NUHW to respect workers' democratic decision and not file frivolous objections to the election. Unfortunately, most observers believe NUHW is likely to follow its pattern of filing dubious objections when they lose a vote in an effort to delay final certification of the results.
Members voted to stay in SEIU-UHW to protect the standard-setting contract they negotiated earlier this year that guarantees 9% wage increases over three years, family healthcare with no cost increases and job security protections not found anywhere else in the industry. Negotiated by a 121-member, elected SEIU-UHW rank-and-file bargaining committee supported by thousands of union members, the agreement went into effect October 1, 2010. The contract would have had to be renegotiated and the gains would have been in jeopardy if caregivers chose NUHW.
"NUHW leaders deliberately put our pay raises, benefits and job security at risk in an attempt to gain personal power at our expense," said Bernadette Cabrales a unit assistant at Kaiser Santa Clara. "Fortunately, we saw through it and like so many other SEIU-UHW members have done in the past 20 months we voted to keep our strong union."
The loss at Kaiser raises the question of whether NUHW can survive as a viable union with an ability to raise standards for workers. For months leading up to the election, academics, union observers, and even NUHW officials pointed to the Kaiser election as a decisive moment for NUHW, which assured donors, supporters and staff they would win. Now that they have lost by a wide margin, many believe it will be difficult for them to raise money and hold onto staffers who have had to get by on little or no pay.
The situation facing NUHW points to an organization in jeopardy:
- With this election, more than 124,000 of SEIU-UHW's 150,000 members have chosen which of the two unions to join, and 120,000 – nearly 97% – will have decided to stay in SEIU-UHW.
- NUHW represents only about 5,000 workers (after predicting in early 2009 that they would quickly represent 100,000 workers). Only a tiny number of the workers it represents pay dues because the union has not successfully negotiated a single contract for any of the workers in their union.
- NUHW reportedly is heavily in debt and still owes SEIU-UHW $1.57 million in damages from a federal jury award in April for misusing members' dues.
- In lead-up to the Kaiser election, SEIU-UHW members had rejected NUHW at nearly 50 other hospitals, nursing homes, and in counties that employ SEIU-UHW members as home care providers. Now, NUHW has been rejected by workers at Kaiser – the largest and most prestigious healthcare system in the state. That defeat will have a major influence on any future elections. It will undermine NUHW's ability to appeal to other healthcare workers who see Kaiser as the flagship for healthcare workers in California.
In addition, prior to the election, many union experts and labor professors were questioning why a group like NUHW would spend resources and cause SEIU to spend resources trying to decertify workers who already have a strong union. Given the state of the labor movement, down to just 7% of private sector workers, NUHW's focus on trying to decertify unionized workers does nothing to build the bigger and stronger labor movement workers need to improve their lives, they say.
SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (SEIU-UHW) is the largest healthcare union in the western U.S. with more than 150,000 members. SEIU-UHW is part of the 2.2 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU).