California healthcare workers spar over medical facility rallies

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image courtesy beyondchron.org

By Rebecca Bowe

Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) is holding a series of rallies today at eight different Bay Area medical facilities to “mark the approval of their new contract and organize to enforce it; and throw out an outside organization that is trying to undermine their progress,” according to a press release.

The “outside organization” refers to the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), a young union formed early last year in the wake of a deep rift created when SEIU brought UHW workers under its representation through a trusteeship. NUHW later decried the move as a “hostile takeover.”

Workers at the hospitals, which include five medical centers in the Daughters of Charity Health System, are expected to vote soon on whether they would rather remain under the SEIU-UHW umbrella or break away to join NUHW. The eight medical centers employ roughly 3,500 SEIU-UHW members. SEIU-UHW also plans to deliver an open letter to NUHW tomorrow, Feb. 19, at NUHW's offices in Emeryville.

In conversations with the Guardian about the events, representatives from SEIU-UHW and NUHW each charged that the other side was engaged in spreading lies.

Richard Gutierrez, a member of SEIU-UHW who has been working as a physical therapy aid at the Seton Coastside facility in Moss Beach for a little more than two years, said the rallies were meant to signal to management and NUHW “that we are a united front … united to work against management.”

Gutierrez said he’d been involved in contract negotiations for 18 months, but worried that the newly secured contract would be undermined by pending votes on union representation. “It’s not as strong, because management can drag their tail, and say that right now we’re not going to deal with it,” he said.

Kathleen Blocher, a union member who has worked in the radiology division at Seton Medical Facility in Daly City for more than 30 years, said she didn’t think much of SEIU-UHW’s rallies. “I don’t understand why we’re spending money on a picket when we already have a contract,” she said. “They’re picketing against NUHW, which is not the union of record -- yet.” Blocher believes there is strong support for NUHW, in part because she said it is more member-driven than SEIU.

Blocher also took a dim view of the contract secured by SEIU-UHW, because she said certain provisions that were previously in place had been given up.

“To hear that is a slap in the face,” Gutierrez said when we shared this viewpoint. “97 percent of our membership voted to ratify the contract.” He said he believed the contract was strong, pointing to a provision that grants part-time workers eligibility for healthcare benefits, a rare perk in this economy and job market.

According to Gutierrez and Adriana Surfas, who handles communications for SEIU-UHW, NUHW has been trying to delay the vote on union representation because they fear a lack of support for transitioning to NUHW. “I hope it’s done soon,” Gutierrez said. “The sooner it is, the sooner it shows that we are actually SEIU-UHW.”

Blocher dismissed this charge as completely false. “That makes absolutely no freaking sense to me,” she said. “We should’ve had our vote more than a year ago. And SEIU has put up roadblocks the whole way.”

For more on local labor shakeups, read this week’s report.

Comments

So let me get this straight, you block elections for over a year where a majority of all Seton workers petition to get the hell out of a local you unjustly placed in trusteeship and now - as if by magic - that whole delay was NUHW's fault. Rebecca says you "handle communications" for this gang of class collaborators but I'm not so sure. You've got a handle on something, but it ain't the facts, sister.

Maybe Rebecca could do an update with the actual number of people at this "rally" and some photos of this fearsome "united front". That way your readership can make a more accurate assessment of how deep your support really is. (Note to Adriana, 97 yes votes out of 100 sounds impressive, yes. But if you've got 1000 people at your shop, that's really less than 10%.)

Time to come up with some better talking points, Adriana. Just make sure to avoid talking about how members are decertifying SEIU in San Diego, Marin, and hospitals and nursing homes throughout the states. Good luck!

Scab.

Posted by Berkman on Feb. 18, 2010 @ 4:27 pm

Hey "goof juice": Regarding the turnout, for JUST the event at the Coastside facility, sources on opposing sides gave me two different reports regarding how many SEIU-UHW members turned out. According to Gutierrez, there were around 20 to 30. According to some one who called with a report from NUHW, there were just 7. Perhaps they were there at different times. I don't have any information on the turnout at other events.

Posted by rebecca on Feb. 19, 2010 @ 9:53 am

NUHW is made up of the staff and workers who are long time on the ground organizers committed to just wages and ethical employment and representation of health care workers.

When the SEIU came in, it was with out request, with out a vote, and in the long run with out providing a reason or explanation of why there was a shift in strategy and staff. They doused the fire with flames of their culturally incompetent take over with free glitz and glamor along with their logo heavy approach, with out the concrete or on the ground relationships to actually understand what the bay area health care workers who are predominately from communities of color, many are immigrants, monolingual, and working class need.

Most bay area health care workers are being sold an image to continue to buy into SEIU, I would not say workers are "organized" or "represented" by SEUI. As few workers were given the time or respect of a transparent explanation of the shift in leadership at the local level of the Bay's SEIU-UHW. Therefor many health care workers, who are struggling just to make ends meet and pay for housing, food, and all the basics they are their families need, are very much left out of the actual dialog and left in the middle.

I sense the national SEIU sense it needed to bring to the bay some good old fashioned "divide and conquer" techniques do to the fear of the power and leadership built up through out the greater bay area and the central valley by locally based staff and rank and file organizers.

What really is the commitment from SEIU (the national institution) to the bay areas health care worker? When the National take over occurred, staff had longstanding relationships with the workers they represented, their broader communities, and the broader movement for racial and economic justice ( on both a local and national level the work being done by local SEIU staff was being noticed as a positive example of worker center union organizing). Maybe SEIU is afraid that if low wage workers of color are actually in leadership that their sought after image as the "nations" union and the messages and framework they have created to uphold this image is at risk. I sense the thoughts going on in national office was sadly along the lines of - "We don't want our nurses to feel like they aren't getting their w the ins (contracts/clauses), especially when they are in the same industry doing similar work but are the demographic with college education, A.A. and B.S. degree. Maybe we outta quiet it down over there."

P.S. I am not in the health care industry, never worked for or belonged to a union.

I think we will see more and more "take overs" like these by SEIU as SEIU is disconnected from the complex realities of many of todays low wage workers. Unless this shifts dramatically and quickly and transparently I would encourage all to rally for the smaller more localized unions and their fights. Even if these local unions are struggling with their own leadership and strategies, they are more connected to those who are actually impacted by their work. What gains on the national level policy has SEIU made the have significantly impacted low wage workers? I encourage everyone to rethink the role and value of SEIU in the context of broader social change and economic justice.

Posted by M.C. on Feb. 19, 2010 @ 11:11 am

NUHW is made up of the staff and workers who are long time on the ground organizers committed to just wages and ethical employment and representation of health care workers.

When the SEIU came in, it was with out request, with out a vote, and in the long run with out providing a reason or explanation of why there was a shift in strategy and staff. They doused the fire with flames of their culturally incompetent take over with free glitz and glamor along with their logo heavy approach, with out the concrete or on the ground relationships to actually understand what the bay area health care workers who are predominately from communities of color, many are immigrants, monolingual, and working class need.

Most bay area health care workers are being sold an image to continue to buy into SEIU, I would not say workers are "organized" or "represented" by SEUI. As few workers were given the time or respect of a transparent explanation of the shift in leadership at the local level of the Bay's SEIU-UHW. Therefor many health care workers, who are struggling just to make ends meet and pay for housing, food, and all the basics they are their families need, are very much left out of the actual dialog and left in the middle.

I sense the national SEIU sense it needed to bring to the bay some good old fashioned "divide and conquer" techniques do to the fear of the power and leadership built up through out the greater bay area and the central valley by locally based staff and rank and file organizers.

What really is the commitment from SEIU (the national institution) to the bay areas health care worker? When the National take over occurred, staff had longstanding relationships with the workers they represented, their broader communities, and the broader movement for racial and economic justice ( on both a local and national level the work being done by local SEIU staff was being noticed as a positive example of worker center union organizing). Maybe SEIU is afraid that if low wage workers of color are actually in leadership that their sought after image as the "nations" union and the messages and framework they have created to uphold this image is at risk. I sense the thoughts going on in national office was sadly along the lines of - "We don't want our nurses to feel like they aren't getting their w the ins (contracts/clauses), especially when they are in the same industry doing similar work but are the demographic with college education, A.A. and B.S. degree. Maybe we outta quiet it down over there."

P.S. I am not in the health care industry, never worked for or belonged to a union.

I think we will see more and more "take overs" like these by SEIU as SEIU is disconnected from the complex realities of many of todays low wage workers. Unless this shifts dramatically and quickly and transparently I would encourage all to rally for the smaller more localized unions and their fights. Even if these local unions are struggling with their own leadership and strategies, they are more connected to those who are actually impacted by their work. What gains on the national level policy has SEIU made the have significantly impacted low wage workers? I encourage everyone to rethink the role and value of SEIU in the context of broader social change and economic justice.

Posted by Low Wage Workers Shouldn't Be in the Middle on Feb. 19, 2010 @ 11:15 am

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