Sunday, December 06, 2009
Last week, lenin wrote a downbeat, realistic appraisal of the current state of the US labor movement. People engaged it sincerely, refusing to idealize a difficult situation. In light of this most recent episode, I hope to return soon to the subject of the left and the extent to which it achieve a meaningful social transformation through an emphasis upon trade unionism.
SEIU, whose mission includes the unionization of hospital workers, is now waging a full-scale campaign to prevent over 600 workers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital from joining NUHW, a rival union. SEIU’s effort follows its abandonment of its own union organizing drive at the facility, and its success at convincing workers to vote for “no union” in the December 17 election would ensure these workers remain non- union for years. In response to SEIU’s actions, longtime SEIU supporter Monsignor John Brenkle recently condemned what he described as SEIU’s “anti-union campaign,” and revealed that SEIU had rejected efforts by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and himself to negotiate ground rules that would avoid negative campaigning and ensure a fair election.
Brenkle blamed SEIU’s refusal to negotiate ground rules for giving employer St. Joseph’s Health System (SJHS) “the freedom to continue anti-union practices. ” He also accused SJHS of violating the principles for Catholic health care organizing adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last June – an agreement SEIU helped negotiate but now claims does not apply to NUHW’s Santa Rosa organizing drive.
When SEIU devoted millions of dollars and hundreds of staff to battling NUHW over Fresno home health care workers last spring, the struggle was fierce. But the stakes at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital are much higher. An SEIU “victory” would defeat unionization for over 600 workers in Santa Rosa, and prevent NUHW from using its success as a springboard for organizing SJHS’s over 9000 non-union workers at its hospitals across California.
Few could have imagined one year ago that SEIU’s number one hospital organizing drive in 2009 would focus on preventing workers from joining a union.