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PORTSIDELABOR  July 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDELABOR July 2011, Week 3

Subject:

NLRB Judge Throws Out Kaiser Elections

From:

Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Wed, 20 Jul 2011 22:10:39 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (244 lines)

NLRB Judge Throws Out Kaiser Elections 
by Cal Winslow, Jul. 20, 2011 
New Vote for 43,000 California Workers
http://www.beyondchron.org/news/index.php?itemid=9359#more

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has just
thrown out the results of the September/October 2010
representation election at Kaiser Permanente, the huge
California based Health Maintenance Organization. The
ruling, by an administrative law judge, has handed
California healthcare workers a stunning victory. In
that election, the Service Employees International Union
(SEIU) defeated the National Union of Healthcare Workers
(NUHW), the new union challenging SEIU in the healthcare
industry. The 2010 election - involving 43,000 Kaiser
service and tech workers - was marred by a SEIU campaign
of lies, fear and intimidation. The election itself was
estimated to have cost SEIU between $20 and $40 million
dollars - more than $500 per vote.

NUHW appealed, charging SEIU and Kaiser with a host of
unfair labor practices, above all with collusion in
denying service and technical workers a free and fair
choice election, relying, crucially, on Kaiser's illegal
decision in 2010 to withhold scheduled wage increases
for new southern California NUHW members.

In her July 18, 2011 decision, Washington DC Judge Lana
H. Parke ruled that SEIU had indeed "interfered with
unit employee's free and uncoerced choice in the
election." Underscoring the significance of her ruling,
Judge Parke explained, "The Board does not lightly set
aside representational elections...There is a strong
presumption that ballots cast under specific NLRB
procedural safeguards reflect the true desires of the
employees." She then ordered a new election so that
workers will have "the right to cast their ballots as
they see fit...in the exercise of this right free from
interference..." 

The vote, taken in September/October 2010 was the
largest union election in the US in the last seven
decades.

NUHW spokesman Leighton Akio Woodhouse hailed the
decision as a "total victory for our members - SEIU's
whole campaign was dependent on Kaiser's violation of
the law." 

In early 2010, NUHW Southern California nurses and
professionals successfully challenged SEIU in NLRB
administered elections. Kaiser responded by unilaterally
denying these workers scheduled contractual wage
increases, increases guaranteed, according to labor law,
even when a union is replaced by another	

Judge Parke's ruling drew attention to the conduct of
Kaiser Permanente Regional President Ben Chu who
reinforced SEIU's illegal threats during a large
employee town hall forum prior to the election. SEIU
"was joined in its warnings by Kaiser's President [Ben]
Chu, who informed employees that only members of
coalition unions were guaranteed PSP incentive bonuses.
"

The ruling focuses on SEIU. The withholding of wages,
subsequently found by the NLRB to be illegal (back wages
increase were ordered to be paid) gave SEIU a key
opening for a barrage of misinformation. 

Here's just one example from a SEIU campaign leaflet:
"After Southern California RNs and pros voted to join
NUHW, here's what happened: They lost their 2% raise in
April. That means a loss of more than $1600 a year for
some pros and RNs... They are no longer eligible for up to
$2000 a year in tuition reimbursement..." Parke noted "30
disseminations of this statement in as many facilities."
It was just one of many. It was a lie. 

"We won," says Jonathan Siegel, the Oakland lawyer who
led NUHW's appeal. "I don't want to quibble, she didn't
go far enough."	

Siegel believes Parke erred in not finding Kaiser also
at fault. "It is clear that Kaiser and SEIU worked
together to have raises come due precisely at election
time, while arguing a NUHW victory would negate them."

"But we won, they lost! SEIU will no doubt appeal, that
will take 6 to 12 months, we may cross-appeal, but I'm
certain the ruling will stand, so we're looking for a
new election in 2012."

This California conflict remains, I'll argue, the most
important issue in US labor today, not as spectacular as
the February days in Madison, to be sure, but ongoing
and stark in its implications -can workers stand up to
corporate power? With unions? What kind?

The California healthcare union dispute stems from the
2009 trusteeship of SEIU's California local, the 150,000
strong United Healthcare Workers- West (UHW), then a
militant, progressive union, now a shambles.

The California healthcare workers took issue with SEIU's
corporate structures and strategies, above all its
back-door wheeling and dealing with healthcare
corporations and corrupt politicians - policies aimed at
increasing members (read dues payers) at any cost, most
often at the expense of the rights and standards of its
own members, healthcare workers.

They objected as SEIU spent lavishly on politicians
(Blagojevich in Illinois) signed ten year contracts (in
Washington State) gave up the right to strike (in
California nursing homes), abandoned organizing drives
(in Santa Rosa), sabotaged healthcare reform (with
Arnold Schwarzenegger), ignored staggering intern
corruption (LA local 6434) - all with the justification
that cultivating friendly employers and politicians was
the road to grow and influence. They are still doing it.


Today the healthcare corporations - profit and not-for
profit alike - are as voracious as any. There is no
recession for them. Kaiser reported a net income of $921
million for the first quarter of 2011, with reserves of
more than $12 billion. Still, last month it announced it
would raise premiums for more than 300,000 Californians.
Kaiser officials claimed this would amount a 10.7
increase, but consumer groups predicted increases of up
to 17% for some subscribers.

At the same time, George Halvorson, the CEO for Kaiser
Foundation Health Plan and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals
received compensation of $6.7 million. 

"What is their justification for causing economic
hardship on 300,000 people?" asks Woodhouse. "They're
doing incredibly well financially (and) sitting on huge
reserves."

Still Kaiser wants concessions and SEIU is handing them
out. Worse, while the nation's second-largest union
announces one sham national political campaign after
another, it has virtually abandoned its UHW members. Roy
Chaffee, a call center clerk at Kaiser's Vallejo call
center, reports that "SEIU has withdrawn staff, they're
not visible, we have to fend for ourselves, with Kaiser
taking full advantage - the changes have been
unprecedented and all detrimental."

Angela Glasper, Kaiser Antioch, fired executive board
member of pre-trusteeship UHW, says, "We have not seen
them /SEIU/... we get no representation at all. And we
have people getting fired, some with 20 years on the
job. It's a big thing."

And NUHW? According to NUHW's John Borsos, "We are
already working for the new election - but we're mostly
doing what unions are supposed to do, fighting back
against employers demanding concessions, fighting for
better standards for our members. And organizing. I have
to say -in contrast with far too many unions today -
we're not rolling over in the face of employer demands
for concessions. We're in the middle of contract
negotiations for several thousand healthcare workers." 

And it's not just about talk. On May 18, 2011, 2500 NUHW
members struck Kaiser in Southern California: 1100
nurses and 100 professional (social workers, therapists,
dieticians, medical technicians) and picketed Kaiser's
Los Angeles medical Center in Hollywood, rejecting
concessions and demanding a decent contract in a
powerful display of solidarity.

On June 21 In Salinas, 850 NUHW members struck the
Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital. The day- long strike,
the first ever in the hospital's 58-year history was in
response to stalled negotiations with hospital
management workers.	 NUHW is fighting plans to cut
more than 100 direct-care positions and trim pension and
healthcare benefits for new hires. 

It is important to note that in each strike, SEIU sent
multiple mailers to the workers involved, urging them to
cross picket lines.

At the same time, NUHW is joining with other workers,
community and consumer groups to expose corporate greed.
At Salinas Valley NUHW members revealed the fact that
Samuel Downing, outgoing chief executive, was granted a
retirement package that included $5 million in
supplemental payments plus a $150,000 annual benefit.

These struggles are critical. NUHW is rebuilding at a
time when the situation of workers is increasingly
desperate; they come at a time when it ought to be
self-evident that concessions don't work; they come at a
time when the political class, here in California,
across the nation, internationally, is singing just one
song: austerity! 

There is, however, an alternative. The NLRB ruling on
the Kaiser election will strengthen it. "It was a shot
of hope," reports Glasper. " People are smiling today,
we're rejuvenated. We still are the union. They tell us
we our voices don't count. We remember, they do."

"This ruling is a tremendous vindication for us," says
Chafee. "It is a vindication for thousands of honest
healthcare workers, the victims of the SEIU - we are
excited and hopeful, we can still regain our union, we
can restore our economic security, we can regain our
voice and do the job we want to do - take care of and
defend the rights of our patients."

Cal Winslow has written extensively on the subject of
the SEIU and NUHW. He is the author of Labor's Civil War
in California, PM Press and an editor of Rebel Rank and
File: Labor Militancy and Revolt From Below during the
Long Seventies (Verso, 2010). He is a Fellow at UC
Berkeley, Director of the Mendocino Institute and
associated with the Bay Area collective, Retort. He can
be reached at [log in to unmask]

____________________________________________

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people on the left that will help them to interpret the
world and to change it.

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