Three Kaiser Unions Walk Out Again in California, while SEIU Stays Put

Published on LABOR notes, by Steve Early, February 1, 2012.

As three unions at the Kaiser Permanente health care chain in California pulled a one-day statewide walkout yesterday, their solidarity went unmatched by the company’s largest union, the Service Employees … //

… Health Care Winners and Losers:   

  • For thousands of other Kaiser workers, forging rank-and-file unity and striking together on January 31 seemed like a better way to build a “winning team” when Kaiser wants givebacks on pensions, health care, and more. The three sponsoring unions claimed high levels of rank-and-file participation at scores of hospitals and clinics around the Golden State.
  • NUHW struck, as it has several times before, to back up ongoing negotiations involving 4,000 mental health professionals, optical workers, and Southern California nurses who switched from SEIU to NUHW in 2010.
  • CNA’s 17,000 RNs at Kaiser in northern California joined the work stoppage, even though their contract doesn’t expire until 2014. Kaiser dragged the nurses into arbitration last fall, saying CNA violated the “no-strike” clause in its contract after the union called on members to strike in sympathy. Union leaders pointed to legal precedents that back up members’ rights to honor other workers’ picket lines.
  • A new addition to the fray was 650 members of Stationary Engineers Local 39, who maintain the hospitals’ air conditioning, refrigeration, and physical plant. They, like CNA, struck in sympathy with NUHW and helped picket other building trades workers off the job at Kaiser construction sites.
  • By some estimates, hundreds of health care workers who belong to SEIU also stayed home or showed up to picket. They ignored warnings and resisted pressure from their own union, which remains wedded to Kaiser’s “Labor-Management Partnership” program. (For more on that program, see here and here.)

Union: Patients at Risk: … //

… Can’t Say No To Kaiser?

  • Regan proposed tying future contract bonus money “to how we use health care to get healthy.” This would, he claimed, “protect what we have,” while changing Americans’ perception of unions.
  • By email, the Kaiser worker who taped the meeting accused UHW leaders of trying to soften up delegates. “They never talk about the fact that Kaiser is rolling in profits, that the CEO got a $1 million raise, and that other unions are fighting Kaiser’s cuts. Instead, they try to scare us that we’re going to turn into the UAW and Kaiser will turn into General Motors unless we let Kaiser cut our benefits. They tell us: ‘You’re lucky to have a job.’
  • “Regan told us that we can’t show up at the bargaining table and say ‘no’ to the cuts,” said the worker, who insisted on anonymity. “Instead, he says we have to ‘get out in front of the cuts’ by offering our own.”
  • The continuing struggle over which path to take at Kaiser—resistance to concessions or the non-adversarial approach embraced by SEIU—will intensify in the months to come.
  • In October 2010, NUHW lost its representation challenge to SEIU in Kaiser’s giant service and technical unit. But the vote among those 43,000 employees was overturned last summer after the NLRB found that SEIU’s illegal campaigning, along with Kaiser’s unfair labor practices, “interfered with the exercise of a free and reasoned choice among employees.”
  • If the workers adversely affected by this collusion get another vote between the two unions in the middle of SEIU’s 2012 bargaining, Kaiser and SEIU may have a harder time peddling concessions as a lasting prescription for labor peace.

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