NUHW-Machinists Alliance: What's the Game Plan?
by Carl Finamore
July 10, 2012
It surprised many when the National Union of Healthcare
Workers - a quintessential service sector union - announced
in February its intent to affiliate with the Machinists,
which has an extensive industrial union history.
Details are still under discussion, but an alliance would
ultimately bring over 9,000 NUHW members together with
720,000 IAM members.
The announcement came at an important juncture for NUHW,
which was born in 2009 after the Service Employees drove out
key activists and leaders from its 150,000-member United
Healthcare Workers-West local in California during a battle
over democracy and local autonomy. NUHW ran against SEIU in
2010 in elections for 43,000 service and tech workers at
California's Kaiser Permanente hospitals and lost. But a
labor board ruling last year confirmed that Kaiser had
colluded with SEIU during the election, and the board
ordered a re-run. Now NUHW will enter the field with strong
backing from a powerful AFL-CIO ally.
Carl Finamore, former president of IAM Local Lodge 1781 in
California, spoke with Gary Allen, IAM general vice
president; Sal Rosselli, president of NUHW; and Don
Crosatto, Western Territory IAM District 190 senior area
Labor Notes: Where did the idea to affiliate come from?
Don Crosatto: I was always very much aware of the dominant
presence of SEIU-UHW in successful organizing, bargaining,
and community coalition building in California. They had the
gold-standard contract in the health industry, had very
active steward participation, and were the fastest-growing
union in California. Their record stood out. After they were
kicked out of SEIU and formed NUHW, I saw that same
leadership continuing to run impressive campaigns, but this
time on a shoestring budget.
Stands to reason, I figured, that they would be thinking
about linking up with an organization with resources.
Of course, some will think this relationship with the IAM is
strange because we do not have much experience in health
care. But NUHW has that part pretty well figured out; they
do not need that from us.
They need to be part of a larger organization that values
local autonomy and that does not micromanage from
headquarters in Washington, D.C.
LN: How did the consultations develop?
DC: I knew former SEIU-UHW President Sal Rosselli for 20
years and asked if he wanted to talk with Gary about how we
view local autonomy and democracy. There were intense
discussions for a couple months that included our
international president, R. Thomas Buffenbarger, and the
international's nine-member executive council, that
ultimately led to a letter of intent to affiliate.
Gary Allen: The thing that moved me was blatant abuse by
SEIU of basic union democracy against duly elected SEIU-UHW
leaders over disagreements on bargaining priorities and
Unfortunately, this was not a complete surprise. It's my
opinion that over the last several years, SEIU chose growth
at all costs, negotiating future organizing access instead
of bargaining standard-of-living increases for their
In the IAM, decisions about collective bargaining priorities
are left to our members.
LN: What were the first reactions of the IAM?
DC: Health care is not one of our bread-and-butter
industries and most of our leadership is not in California.
So, most IAM leaders did not really know the players up
close. However, we found our general philosophies are pretty
much the same.
We both believe members should drive negotiations by
selecting the bargaining committee, developing contract
demands, and ratifying agreements. In addition, the IAM is
not in the habit of forcing consolidations into mega-locals,
with smaller locals giving up their independence as demanded
so often by SEIU.
LN: What does the IAM think it will get out of this
GA: It would be disingenuous to say we are not interested in
thousands of new members or that we do not appreciate the
value of becoming a major player in the rapidly growing
health care industry. But an even bigger benefit for the IAM
is NUHW's huge pool of organizing talent.
DC: We definitely hope their example and experience will
energize our locals to organize more, which, frankly, we can
LN: How will NUHW benefit?
DC: Of course, NUHW needs resources to go after bigger
targets like Kaiser.
But, as its name indicates, NUHW is a national health care
union. Our organizing perspective is not about picking SEIU
apart but about organizing vast areas of the unorganized.
SEIU is much bigger, but most of their members are
concentrated in New York, Illinois, and California where,
for example, they have 700,000 members.
SEIU is not present in large sections of this country. The
IAM's extensive geographic presence is an enormous
advantage, especially in the South. We do not have tens of
thousands of members in these states but we do have a
presence. Instead of blowing in with a blizzard of purple
shirts, our organizers get introduced by IAM members who not
only lived and worked in that community but whose parents
have also lived their whole lives in that community. Being
introduced as a good guy by these deeply rooted local folks
matters in small towns.
Sal Rosselli: With the IAM located in every state in the
union and in every province of Canada, we have a tremendous
opportunity to organize. Most hospital workers in this
country are not in a union - a whopping 90 percent of them,
or 9 million in all. It's great that the IAM shares our
vision and confidence about national organizing.
LN: How will this all affect the upcoming Kaiser NUHW/SEIU
representation election involving 43,000 employees? SR:
Well, IAM resources will hopefully make it easier for us to
communicate to the 10,000 folks we could not even reach last
But the Kaiser campaign this year is fundamentally different
in two other huge ways.
First, Kaiser has shown its true colors. In the last
election, we could not very effectively criticize Kaiser
because the good relationship with the old SEIU-UHW built up
over the years produced the best contracts in the industry.
This was still fresh in everyone's mind. Today, it's the
opposite. Kaiser is trying to jam through concessions
despite their enormous profits. This has angered thousands
of workers who previously trusted Kaiser.
Secondly, SEIU-UHW has changed. In 2010, we were a brand-new
organization and it was difficult to explain our differences
with SEIU. Not true today. SEIU has failed to pursue
grievance complaints and, at the same time, caved to
numerous concessions dictated by Kaiser and other hospitals.
By contrast, in the last year and half, NUHW has settled
half a dozen contracts with no takeaways, proving by example
that you can avoid concessions and even gain some
improvements if you stand up to the employer.
Along with our new relationship with the IAM, these are
things that, I believe, make a huge difference this time
LN: How has SEIU attempted to discredit IAM-NUHW
DC: We don't see ourselves as a raiding organization,
definitely not. NUHW folks originally had a great union and
they were essentially kicked out by their international
leadership. What were they supposed to do? Disappear?
SEIU is mailing letters to IAM and AFL-CIO officers, showing
up uninvited to IAM meetings, and mailing flyers to their
Kaiser members, warning to be on the lookout for IAM reps
"invading" work areas. But what about their flagrant raiding
war only a few years ago against California nurses, or when
they actually tried to split apart UNITE HERE? SEIU is
overdosing on hypocrisy.
LN: What was the AFL-CIO's reaction?
GA: SEIU offered a no-raid agreement to AFL-CIO President
Richard Trumka if the IAM abandoned NUHW, so you know they
are trying to apply lots of pressure. Get back into the AFL-
CIO, Trumka frankly told them, and we can discuss all your
LN: Why is SEIU taking such a hard tack?
GA: It is sad to see in a very short period of time this
innovative West Coast SEIU-UHW union become so top-down. A
union cannot sustain itself if the members do not want you.
This is the dilemma SEIU-UHW is facing. They are losing
membership support. It explains why they are so willing to
trade member benefits to curry favor with health care giants
like Kaiser who extend to SEIU organizers illegal advantages
to influence elections against NUHW.
There are many battles ahead to gain democratic and militant
representation for health care workers and I see the IAM
working hand in hand with NUHW to help them achieve these
[Carl Finamore is a delegate to the San Francisco Labor
Council. He can be reached at [log in to unmask] ]
Appreciation to Patricia Valencia for arrangements.
[Portside thanks the author, Carl Finamore, for sharing this
with the readers of Portside.]
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