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PORTSIDELABOR  July 2010, Week 1

PORTSIDELABOR July 2010, Week 1

Subject:

Kaiser Workers File for Independence

From:

Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sun, 4 Jul 2010 22:55:23 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (220 lines)

1. Calif. Union Rebels Demand Biggest Labor Board Vote In Seven Decades -- By Steve Early, In These Times
2. The Future of Unionism, Huge Hospital Elections Set -- By Cal Winslow, Counterpunch



Calif. Union Rebels Demand Biggest Labor Board Vote In Seven Decades 

By Steve Early	
June 30, 2010

http://www.inthesetimes.com/working/entry/6163/

Unhappy Kaiser Workers Aim to Leave SEIU, Join NUHW

With justifiable pride (and the numbers to prove it),
the 1.9 million member Service Employees International
Union (SEIU) has long claimed to be the “fastest
growing union in America.” By the end of this year, it
could become the fastest-shrinking union in
California—a reversal of fortune largely unforeseen
until recently.

The architects of SEIU downsizing (if it occurs) are
not budget-cutting Republican governors or anti-union
nursing home owners or union-busting hospitals,
although all will be impacted by the upcoming vote
demanded yesterday by thousands of Kaiser Permanente
(KP) workers. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, unhappy
SEIU members held press conferences Tuesday to announce
that they are seeking National Labor Relations Board
(NLRB) elections so they can switch to the rival
National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

Their contested bargaining units cover 45,000 employees
at California’s largest hospital chain. To get a
representation vote in a group of this size, you need
to sign up, in very short order, at least 13,500 people
in 350 different work locations in one of America’s
largest states. (And that minimum 30% “showing of
interest” to trigger a vote was certainly far exceeded
by NUHW supporters at Kaiser who did the bulk of the
signature-gathering on their own time—before, during
and after scheduled work shifts.)

As a longtime helper of labor organizing drives on the
east coast—the largest of which involved 10,000 fewer
workers in a public sector campaign thirty years ago—my
hat is off to the formidable rank-and-file team that’s
re-building  unionism at Kaiser today. After all, it’s
not every day that someone knocks on the door of the
NLRB and says: “Hey, let’s hold the biggest union
representation vote since the 1940s.”

Depending on how much legal foot-dragging SEIU does
now, the election could be held anytime between late
August and October.

At the Bay Area NUHW press briefing, hosted by UNITE
HERE Local 2,  Kaiser workers explained why they want
out of their existing union. Since January of 2009,
when former SEIU president Andy Stern (now a drug
company board member) put 150,000-member United
Healthcare Workers (UHW) under trusteeship for
challenging his heavy-handed rule, things have not gone
well for care-givers in California.

Kaiser social workers Randi Shaw and David Shapiro were
part of a pre-trusteeship UHW chapter that had 350
widely-dispersed members, but a strong network of 35
elected shop stewards. The social workers felt
connected to Kaiser contract negotiations in 2000 and
2005 that Shapiro participated in as a bargaining
committee member.

“As social workers, we believe in democracy, in
electing our stewards,” Shaw said. “When SEIU took over
our local, they said nothing would change. But one of
the first things they did was remove stewards and other
elected leaders.” Day-to-day representation has
suffered as result, Shaw and Shapiro reported. Only
members willing to sign an official SEIU loyalty oath
are eligible to serve as stewards or negotiators.

So Kaiser management is taking advantage of the weaker,
less experienced people who’ve replaced the hundreds of
Kaiser stewards who have quit or been purged by SEIU
because of their NUHW sympathies. “It’s very different
working at Kaiser now, “Shaw said. “The culture has
changed and you can feel it.”

Shapiro cited the gains made by fellow Kaiser
professionals in southern California who were the first
to switch unions in January, in a landslide vote
against SEIU. The nurses in that group of 2,500
immediately went to work on the issue of staffing
levels. They were able to negotiate additional RN
positions at a time of Kaiser-wide job elimination—a
trend that NUHW says is not being effectively resisted
by SEIU. Aiding the latter, Kaiser tried to punish
workers who voted for NUHW by denying them a previously
scheduled wage increase—an unfair labor practice so
blatant that it forced even the slow-moving and
employer-friendly NLRB to issue a complaint against KP
several weeks ago.

This employer retaliation was not unrelated to a much
larger pattern of management support for the incumbent
union and interference with the activities of the
insurgent one. The much-heralded Kaiser
“labor-management partnership” has become an additional
weapon against employee free choice. Workers are being
told by SEIU that they will lose the benefits of a
Kaiser labor coalition contract just negotiated—and
won’t be allowed to join either the partnership or the
30-union coalition that participates in it.

Neither threat seems to be doing too much damage so
far.

The new SEIU-Kaiser agreement has been widely
criticized by NUHW supporters and has won them further
shop-floor support from co-workers in the California
Nurses Association. CNA members have always opposed the
partnership and believe the just-ratified SEIU deal
sets a bad precedent for their own statewide bargaining
next year. Between them, CNA and UNITE HERE have
provided more than $3 million in loans and grants to
NUHW since the new union was launched 17 months ago.
Scores of organizers, on loan from UNITE HERE, have
also been assisting NUHW’s bare-bones network of
low-paid, full-time staffers and its dedicated cadre of
Kaiser campaign volunteers.

“Kaiser workers are on the verge of making history and
taking their union back,” Local 2 secretary-treasurer
Lamoin Werlein-Jaen told the press conference. “We have
a shared vision that emphasizes democracy and placing
members at the center of our organizing, our work, and
our decision-making.”

Outside Werlein-Jaen’s union hall door, a small group
of purple-clad SEIU members handed out anti-NUHW
flyers, accompanied by a nervous-looking young staffer
named Adriana Surfas.  Adriana is the PR person who
raised a few eyebrows in May when SEIU pulled out of a
long-sought NLRB vote at UCS University Hospital in Los
Angeles.

Amid a vicious anti-union campaign by management--that
was aided and abetted by SEIU—the incumbent union
suddenly removed itself from the ballot! Adrian told
the Los Angeles Times that this was because management
“had created an extremely hostile environment, so that
workers who supported unionization feared what was
going to happen.” What happened was that 393 workers
voted for NUHW, 122 voted for no union, and the union
that represented all of them until the day before
simply vamoosed.

Since the well-deserved loss of SEIU’s entire KP
membership would be quite a blow to new national
president Mary Kay Henry—and a set-back for
Stern-appointed UHW trustee Dave Regan, who is about to
become the permanent leader of UHW—no one expects a
similar disappearing act at Kaiser. But before the
balloting is over, Kaiser workers will see more of that
“extremely hostile environment” in their own
workplaces, as SEIU and management team up to make
changing unions as difficult as possible.

Steve Early, author of Embedded With Organized Labor:
Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home, is a
labor journalist and lawyer who has written for
numerous publications. He was a Boston-based
international representative or organizer for the
Communications Workers of America for 27 years, and is
a member of the editorial advisory committees of three
independent labor publications: Labor Notes, New Labor
Forum and Working USA. He can be reached at
[log in to unmask]



The Future of Unionism, Huge Hospital Elections Set

By Cal Winslow

The new National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) has
filed petitions representing tens of thousands of
Kaiser Permanente workers ‚ decertification petitions
setting the stage for the largest, most important union
election in decades. Kaiser workers, 45,000, at last
have won the right to vote for a union of their choice.

The elections will come ‚ despite SEIUs teams of
lawyers, despite its still deep pockets. They will be
held despite Kaiser's blatantly pro-SEIU intervention
in this conflict. And they will be held despite the
National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) "justice
delayed" preference in operations.

This is the second time Kaiser workers have petitioned
for elections. When the majority of Kaiser workers
petitioned to decertify SEIU in 2009... 

Read the complete article at Counterpunch:

http://www.counterpunch.org/winslow07022010.html

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