Thursday, March 05, 2009
Not surprisingly, SEIU is not taking this lightly:
Healthcare workers have taken another giant step forward. At the same time, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) stands exposed as never before. Corporate unionism – Andy Stern’s contribution to the long decline of organized labor in the US – is up against the wall in California.
This contest is a fight with big implications. The prize is “a free choice” for workers, a right rarely enjoyed in late-imperial America, but with a California twist – it is “a free choice” in choosing a union – California healthcare workers are fighting for the right to have a union of their own, a union that they control and that works in their interests, not, in this case, the SEIU.
On Thursday afternoon ( February 26) the new National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) made an historic advance – it filed petitions asking that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) conduct decertification (rescind legal recognition)elections at Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest non-profit health care provider. These petitions were signed by more than 50 per cent, (that is, an absolute majority) of all California’s 50,000 of Kaiser’s SEIU represented healthcare workers. The petitions represent, starkly, the desire of these California healthcare workers to leave SEIU.
This petition campaign is the culmination of one phase in what has become the war to form the NUHW – yet it is an astonishing achievement. It is all the more impressive as it represents just the core of an ongoing drive in which, so far, workers at 380 California facilities (employing 80,000 workers – the majority of members of SEIU’s once flagship local, United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) – have rejected SEIU and petitioned for recognition of NUHW as their union. And this in less than one month! 10,000 home care workers will file Monday in Fresno.
Obviously, this is a crucial fight in the struggle for the creation of an independent, progressive trade union movement in the US. But we need more than the abandonment of failed leaders and institutions, like Stern and SEIU. It is essential that the labor movement adopt principles of democratic participation and direct action that it has historically repudiated.
As predicted the stall has begun - the clock runs and back home on the job, intimidation, harassment, threats.
Here are four examples, I’ve seen dozens:*On February 1, Inez Moreno, a shop steward at 269-bed Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield, received a phone call from an SEIU organizer. Moreno was told not to circulate petitions. If she refused, the organizer would call the hospital’s Human Resources Department on Monday and have her terminated. “She said I had been stripped of my stewardship… She thinks she can call me and treat me like nothing…”*On February 9th, Maria Garcia, a Certified Nursing Assistant and elected shop steward at 99-bed Bay Point Healthcare Center in Hayward, was fired for circulating a petition to join NUHW. Her boss phoned SEIU Trustee Eliseo Medina and told her that if Medina didn’t approve of the petition, she would be fired. Days later, he terminated Garcia, who is an immigrant from Mexico and a single mother of three children.*On February 11th, Angelica Valerio, a Certified Nursing Assistant and member of the elected Windsor Healthcare bargaining committee, was suspended from her job and nine others received written warnings for refusing to let an SEIU staffer bargain their contract. A majority of Windsor workers had already petitioned to disaffiliate from SEIU. With 29 nursing homes, for-profit Windsor Healthcare is one of the largest nursing home chains in California.*On February 23rd, three SEIU organizers arrived at 1,049-bed California Pacific Medical Center, Sutter Health’s flagship hospital located in San Francisco. Two of the facility’s elected rank-and-file leaders, Helen York-Jones and Porfirio Quintano, asked the SEIU organizers to leave their hospital. York-Jones is a Cashier and 40-year employee who is the facility's Rep Chair and a former elected member of SEIU-UHW's Executive Board. Quintano, a Housekeeper with 10 years on the job, is a steward and an elected member of the union's bargaining committee. The two leaders told the SEIU staffers that a majority of the hospital’s workers had already submitted petitions to disaffiliate from SEIU, and they did not want SEIU organizers in their facility. The SEIU organizers reported them to the hospital's Human Resources Department. Two days later, York-Jones and Quintano received calls from Sutter management announcing that they had been placed on unpaid investigatory leave.
So much for protected activity! But no one said it would be easy.