After months and months of saying they wanted union elections held immediately at hospitals and nursing homes in California, former SEIU-UHW officials who were ousted from the union are now trying to stop 29 elections that are ready to proceed for more than 4,000 workers.
The former union officials, who were ousted last January for misusing union funds and undermining members' democratic rights, formed a group in January 2009 called the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). NUHW filed for elections with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to "decertify" SEIU-UHW and have the workers come over to their organization. Now, they have filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB to get the elections stopped.
After campaigning for a year, NUHW has been unable to win support from the workers and now doesn't want to schedule elections they are highly likely to lose. SEIU-UHW is working to make sure the elections move forward quickly, saying that NUHW's arguments are spurious and lack merit. Although the NLRB, SEIU-UHW, and several of the employers have all agreed to election dates in early February, NUHW has refused to enter into the agreements.
"The NUHW hypocrisy is just unbelievable," said Gloria Antonio, a CNA at Vista Manor Nursing Center and Lifehouse in San Jose. "This is something that is very serious and they are playing games with us. If they didn't want elections, they shouldn't have filed for them in the first place. It seems like NUHW's only purpose in filing for a vote was to divide us and make us look weaker to management."
NUHW's attempt to stop elections has had the effect of angering many workers, who say they want the elections held immediately so they can vote to move forward in SEIU-UHW.
"Can we believe anything they tell us – anything at all?" said Valentine Granados, an Environmental Services worker at O'Connor Hospital, part of the Daughters of Charity system. "It is now clearer than ever that the NUHW officials will say anything and do anything if they think it will get our vote. It's time for them to get out of our facilities and out of our lives and let us continue building the strong union we need in SEIU-UHW."
Over the past two weeks, healthcare workers at the 29 California hospitals and nursing homes began seeking to move ahead with elections so they can join more than 55,000 other union members who have already chosen to stay united in SEIU rather than switch to NUHW.
In many places, members have now negotiated strong new contracts that lock in raises and benefits for up to three years – improvements that would be put directly at risk if workers were to leave SEIU-UHW. In others, NUHW is creating division as contracts are being bargained – a situation that management is trying to take advantage of. Members have decided the time has come to get NUHW out of their affairs and end the division.
The former officials who set up NUHW were removed from office in SEIU-UHW for improperly transferring $3 million in members' dues to an outside account for their own use, stashing $500,000 in a lawyer's bank account, and violating the democratic rights of SEIU-UHW members. The local union was placed in trusteeship, and the former officials go to trial in federal court in March on charges of harming the union and its members, and could face a significant financial judgment against them.
Since NUHW was formed nearly a year ago, not a single SEIU member has switched to that organization. Last year, 55,964 members stuck with SEIU, despite decertification efforts by the group of ousted leaders. This included 10,000 home care workers in Fresno County, 22,000 home care workers in San Francisco, 18,000 home care workers in Sacramento, and more than 3,000 hospital and healthcare workers at Alameda Hospital, Alameda County Medical Center, Washington Hospital in Fremont, Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital in Hollister, Natividad Medical Center in Salinas, and 2,300 workers in Monterey County.