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Latest News - December 2010

December 15, 2010
Kaiser Permanente violated labor laws by withholding raises, benefits
Source: Sacramento Business Journal
By: Kathy Robertson

An administrative law judge has ruled that Kaiser Permanente violated federal labor law by withholding scheduled raises and other benefits from Southern California workers who voted to leave Service Employees International Union to join a rival this year — and ordered the health care giant to pay workers what they are owed.

The order issued Monday stems from a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of 2,300 workers in Southern California who left SEIU for the National Union of Healthcare Workers in January, but the ruling could have ramifications on a larger bargaining unit of 43,000 workers statewide, including 4,000 in the Sacramento region.

This larger group voted in October to stay with SEIU, but the central argument of the campaign was that those who bolted in Southern California for the new union lost wages and benefits.

“(The ruling) proves what we’ve been saying all along — that Kaiser violated the law when it failed to pay workers their wages and benefits and colluded with SEIU to make it harder to win the election,” said John Borsos, a leader at NUHW.

The new union, formed in January 2009 after SEIU assumed trusteeship of local United Healthcare Workers West, filed a complaint following the election that remains under investigation by the NLRB. The ruling gives teeth to its argument of injustice and attempt to have the results tossed.

Kaiser officials said Wednesday they are still reviewing the judge’s order and declined comment.

“There’s not much to comment; the (judge) ruled the way he did,” said Steve Trossman, spokesman for SEIU-UHW. “Whether Kaiser will appeal or not, we don’t know. If they do, it’ll be six months or a year before there’s a ruling. Bottom line: nine months later, this group of employees is still without a contract. They’re certainly not going to get the 3 percent SEIU, and, with the 2 percent, that puts them 5 percent behind.”

The affected workers were members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West and covered by Kaiser’s national agreement with a coalition of labor unions when they voted to bolt for NUHW.

After the vote, Kaiser refused to pay them a 2 percent raise that took effect for coalition members in April and withdrew tuition-reimbursement benefits and paid time off for shop-steward training.

NUHW continues in contract negotiations with Kaiser, but has not reached a deal.

The argument goes to whether the coalition agreement covers the workers until they nail a new contract “It is settled law that when employees are represented by a labor organization, their employer may not make unilateral changes in their terms and conditions of employment, such as wages,” Judge William Schmidt stated in the ruling. If allowed to stand, Kaiser’s position would “seriously impair, if not virtually eliminate as a practical matter, the fundamental right of employees ... to change their bargaining representative.”

Schmidt ordered Kaiser to cease and desist from changing terms and conditions of employment by withholding the April raise, tuition reimbursement for continuing education and paid time off for shop-steward training.

He ordered Kaiser to bargain with NUHW in good faith and implement the raise and restore the benefits within 14 days. Schmidt also ordered Kaiser to go through payroll records to determine the amount of back pay due, post signs about these actions and report compliance within 21 days.



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