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Latest News - October 2010

October 08, 2010
Big Union Wins Vote Against a Rival in California
Source: The New York Times
By: Steven Greenhouse

The Service Employees International Union decisively defeated a rival union that was seeking to persuade 43,000 employees who worked for Kaiser Permanente in California to switch unions, the National Labor Relations Board announced Thursday night.

The labor board said the service employees union received 18,290 votes, or 61 percent, compared with 11,364 received by the rival union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which broke away from the S.E.I.U. in early 2009. In addition, 365 workers voted for no union.

The service employees union spent millions of dollars in the campaign, fearing that a victory for its rival would give that union the money and momentum to try to take away tens of thousands of other S.E.I.U. members in California.

The vote was the largest private-sector union election since workers at the Ford Motor Company voted to join the United Automobile Workers in 1941. However, the California election pitted one union against another, causing many in the union movement to say it was a destructive, costly contest that undercut labor’s power and image.

The battle was between the service employees, a powerful union with nearly two million members, and a 6,000-member upstart that was formed by local leaders who were ousted when the S.E.I.U. imposed a trusteeship on its 150,000-member health care local in Oakland. The election was fiercely contested, with each side accusing the other of lying, fraud and bullying.

Dave Regan, the S.E.I.U. official who leads the local placed into trusteeship, said that with this defeat, the rival union would be short on resources and should close down. “It’s time to admit you have failed,” he said. “They need to look in the mirror and say, ‘It’s time for us to stop this thing.’ They have no future as a health care union in California or elsewhere.” He added that his union was reaching out to those who had voted against it.

But Sal Rosselli, the president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, said his union had no intention of disappearing. “Our organization’s leaders and people are committed to go forward,” he said, noting that his union was challenging the service employees in three elections involving 2,000 workers later this month.

Mr. Rosselli said his union would file objections to the Kaiser election, asserting that the service employees had illegally intimidated workers and that Kaiser, the largest health care provider in California, had illegally favored the S.E.I.U.

“We’re absolutely confident that the election will be thrown out because of Kaiser’s and the S.E.I.U.’s illegal activity,” he said.

Officials from the service employees and Kaiser denied any improper activity. In placing Mr. Rosselli’s local into trusteeship in January 2009, the service employees accused him and the local’s other leaders of misusing union funds. Days later, that local’s ousted leaders formed the rival National Union of Healthcare Workers.

During the Kaiser campaign, that union repeatedly denounced the S.E.I.U. as a top-down, undemocratic union, saying the trusteeship was a dictatorial move to silence dissent.

To win the campaign, the service employees told Kaiser workers that it was a powerful, nationwide union that could do a better job negotiating contracts. It boasted that it had greatly increased rank-and-file involvement after imposing the trusteeship and had negotiated a solid contract with Kaiser that included three annual 3 percent raises and no increase in out-of-pocket health care payments.

Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an outspoken supporter of the rival union, said the vote was “a decisive defeat” for that union. He said that if the N.L.R.B. did not overturn the vote, the rival union “won’t survive,” adding, “They’ll be marginal.”

John Logan, director of labor studies at San Francisco State University, said he doubted the labor board would order a new election. “With this margin of victory, the chances of this happening are not very good,” he said. He said that the labor board would have been more likely to overturn the results if the margin had been narrow.

Mr. Rosselli said that Kaiser had improperly skewed the election for S.E.I.U. favor by giving unfair access to its campaigners and by denying a scheduled raise to 2,300 Kaiser workers who had voted to switch to his union.

John E. Nelson, a Kaiser spokesman, said the election was “fair,” adding that “we will abide by the results” when the N.L.R.B. certifies the election.

Mr. Nelson said Kaiser was neutral throughout the campaign and had “cooperated fully with the N.L.R.B. to assure that we met our legal obligations.”



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