Kaiser workers seek election between rival unions


Thousands of Kaiser Permanente workers have filed petitions to change unions in what could be the biggest battle yet between Service Employees International Union and its upstart rival National Union of Healthcare Workers. If called by federal regulators, the election would involve more than 45,000 workers, the biggest private sector organization since Ford Motors employees joined United Auto Workers in 1941.

“This is the election everyone has been anticipating for the last year and a half,” NUHW spokesperson Sadie Crabtree told us.

That was when Sal Rosselli and other former leaders of the Oakland-based United Healthcare Workers were ousted by former SEIU President Andy Stern and other leaders of their parent union, SEIU, and formed NUHW. Since then, the two unions have clashed bitterly and regularly, in various workplaces, through the media, in leadership battles, and in a San Francisco court case that ended in April.

“The NUHW petition, if the National Labor Relations Board agrees it was filed appropriately, could force an election between SEIU-UHW and NUHW at Kaiser. Voting for NUHW would risk all the gains SEIU-UHW members made in a hard-fought four-month contract campaign against takeaways by Kaiser,” was how an SEIU-UHW press release cast today's action.

NUHW opted for a nod to the Fourth of July in its release: “Thousands of Kaiser healthcare workers fired the first shot today in a long-anticipated battle for independence that will determine the future of California's largest union, SEIU. They filed a petition that will trigger elections for 45,000 SEIU members to choose between the troubled incumbent and the state's fastest-growing union, the new National Union of Healthcare Workers.”

About 2300 Kaiser workers – representing three of the seven bargaining units – already voted in January to join NUHW, but the petitions now being turned in by the remaining four unions represent the most significant segment of Kaisier workers, including the 44,000-member service, technical, and clerical unit.

Federal law calls for elections when at least 30 percent of a union's members ask for one, and Crabtree told us, “We have more than we need.” Now, the NLRB must verify the petitions and schedule the election.