SEIU Defeats NUHW 61%-37% at Kaiser
by Randy Shaw
SEIU has prevailed 18,290 to11,364 in its hard-fought
battle to retain representation of 43,500 workers at
California's Kaiser Hospitals. NUHW will ask the NLRB
to set aside SEIU's victory on the grounds that the
employer violated federal labor laws by aligning with
SEIU during the campaign. In the short run, it means
SEIU's record financial investment - which most
conservatively exceeded $10 million to secure 18,290
votes and was likely much higher - paid off. The two
parties face a smaller Kaiser election on October 18,
as well as other contests across the state. While many
tried to portray the SEIU-NUHW struggle as a
personality dispute, the contest involved two very
different models for labor unions, and SEIU's victory
was ultimately a defeat for the organizing culture that
originally built SEIU-UHW.
I have written extensively on the Kaiser election, and
felt for some time that NUHW would not be able to
overcome the massive spending and employer-SEIU
alliance. Optimistic reports from various facilities
and the great enthusiasm of NUHW supporters created
glimmers of a possible upset, but the task of
convincing workers in a recession that they were not
risking contract benefits by switching to NUHW -when
SEIU and Kaiser said otherwise, and Kaiser revoked
(illegally, according to the NLRB) contractual raises
for employees that earlier vote to switch - could not
A Defeat for Union Organizing
SEIU's victory was ultimately a triumph of big money
over organizing prowess. It was a defeat for the
organizing culture that built SEIU-UHW, and a victory
for a union model relying not on veteran California
health care organizers, but on the hiring of those
whose job duties excluded building permanent
relationships with workers.
SEIU-UHW outsourced its Kaiser campaign. Many of its
Kaiser "organizers" no longer work for the union, while
others returned to their home states weeks ago.
Does anyone believe that UHW is interested in launching
major organizing drives among unorganized workers at
the St. Joseph's hospital chain, or in other non-union
hospitals? There is barely anyone affiliated with the
local with experience organizing California hospitals,
as SEIU is living off the work of the now-NUHW
organizers that it has sued, demonized, and defamed.
We know that the most principled and committed side
does not always win, and that the best organizing
talent and strategies cannot always overcome big money.
We also know that spreading fear is easier than
inspiring hope, and that creating uncertainty and
confusion leads people to oppose change.
What SEIU has primarily accomplished in the nearly two
years since placing UHW in trusteeship is to kill most
new health care organizing in California, and to create
havoc in the lives of many of the best organizers
currently working in the United States today.
In their place, SEIU has elevated and rewarded labor
bureaucrats like UHW Trustee Dave Regan, derailed the
Employee Free Choice Act by making a mockery of the
notion of employee "free choice" - it held up Kaiser
and other elections through bogus NLRB charges for over
a year - and squandered at least $50 million in members
dues on a fight with its own workers.
Those who did not want to "choose sides" in the
SEIU-NUHW struggle, or in SEIU's attempt to destroy
UNITE HERE, should start taking a closer look at how
these battles have damaged the labor movement. Talented
young organizers are not attracted to SEIU regardless
of the lack of job opportunities, which is why UHW had
to hire temp workers and borrow staff from other states
to wage its Kaiser campaign.
There is no longer a culture of organizing at SEIU. It
is a culture of press releases and Astroturf campaigns
that can succeed when the union's far greater resources
and employer relationships take on the much smaller
NUHW, but falls short when battling Republicans and
powerful corporate interests.
Anyone who cares about the future of progressive change
in this country should thank each and every NUHW worker
and organizer who tried their best to restore a culture
of organizing and worker power to the labor movement.
When Cesar Chavez launched what became the United
Farmworkers in 1962, he had no idea how long the
struggle for the nation's first agricultural labor
relations law would take. It took 13 years.
NUHW was formed in late January 2009, and has over 5000
members after less than two years. Cesar Chavez would
have been thrilled with such progress.
So while the Kaiser defeat is a setback, the organizers
and workers of NUHW are not prepared to quit. Anyone
who gets into this world knows that the struggle for
justice is long and winding, and that those retaining
the Si Se Puede spirit are most likely to prevail.
Randy Shaw's Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW
and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century is now
available in paperback. He is also the author of The
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