by Paul Garver
Duane Campbell’s comment on this blog references Steven Greenhouse’s article in the New York Times welcoming the alliance. Indeed we must applaud the decision by SEIU and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) to bury the hatchet after years of negative campaigning against each other. Agreeing to work together to support single-payer universal health coverage, to support the passage of the EFCA, and to collaborate in organizing nurses and other health care workers is unequivocally a positive step forward.
We must note that the agreement simultaneously reduces the threat to SEIU from the breakaway National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). Not only had CNA been funding health insurance for NUHW organizers – there had been talk of CNA/NNOC collaborating with NUHW at the national level to compete with SEIU. The best critical analysis of the consequences of the accord for the prospects of the NUHW is by Randy Shaw on the San Francisco media blog BeyondChron. Shaw’s article is cross-posted on the web-site of SEIU UHW-W, an organ of the trusteed UHW-W, indicating that SEIU considers the accord a body blow to the dissidents.
There has been other bad news for the NUHW’s struggle to oust SEIU from the UHW-W’s bargaining units. The NLRB ruled in favor of SEIU, dismissing petitions for new elections at the 14,000 worker unit of Catholic Health Care West, because existing union contracts block any new union election. There are exceptions to the law for schisms within a union, but the NLRB considers the conflict between SEIU and the NUHW as between two rival unions rather than between two factions of the same union. Other NUHW election petitions are blocked by SEIU charges that the UHW-W deliberately left expired contracts open by failing to bargain in good faith. (As a former negotiator for an SEIU local, I might add parenthetically that there are many good reasons for delaying signing contractual agreements as well).
On the other hand, a majority of UHW-W members have reportedly signed petitions in favor of NUHW representation over SEIU. This is particularly the case in the largest unit, the 50,000 worker Kaiser Permanente chain. Although contract bars and other legal proceedings will at least delay the opportunity of workers to choose one union or the other, SEIU has the unenviable task of explaining to the public why in this case employees should not have their choice of union representation promptly determined by a card check!
Union stewards in these units are between a rock and a hard place. If they continue to exercise their functions, they can be accused of being Quislings and supporting the new regime. If they resign to support the insurgents, the members they represented may suffer. From a distance it appears that most union stewards and local union activists remain loyal to the former UHW-W leadership, but a long war of attrition could be demoralizing. Of course, demoralization is also a risk for SEIU staffers from outside.