National Nurses United Grows in Troubled Times

Alana Semuels    The Atlantic

Oakland, California. This is the hub of one of the smallest, but most powerful unions in the country. Just 190,000 members strong, National Nurses United is growing while other unions across the country are shrinking. When the autoworkers were agreeing to have some members’ pay cut in half, the nurses fought Arnold Schwarzenegger on patient-to-staff ratios—and won. While public employee unions in states like Michigan and Wisconsin were getting decimated by laws restricting their collective-bargaining rights, the nurses were pushing bills in the California legislature that eventually became law.

National Nurses United may be proof that unions are not all on their way out: Some are very much alive, although they may look a little bit different than they used to.

“Nurses United is among the most innovative and bold of U.S. unions,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor expert at Berkeley. They’ve emerged as a powerful voice in defense of people who receive health care treatment. Continue reading

Kaiser Aftermath: How About Some Competition to Organize Healthcare Workers?

seiu-victory-200x146Little Rock       Probably surprising none of the organizers involved or anyone looking at the campaign, the vote count on the rerun decertification election between the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) produced the same result with a wider margin as Kaiser hospital workers in California overwhelming voted for SEIU by almost a 2 to 1 margin, 58.4% to 40.6%.   In such a landslide both sides had to have known the outcome for many weeks, and the NUHW and its new partner, the powerful California Nurses’ Association (CNA), likely did not pull the petition simply as a talking point for the future as they engage other healthcare workers and try to put a spin on the defeat.  SEIU won this round hands down, but their victory is pyrrhic, if it doesn’t now come with the grace that goes with leadership.

I wouldn’t bet on it, but it would be wonderful, if this closed one chapter for all the unions involved and opened another.   This whole division among unions in California has been a disaster for all involved, undermining the stature and reputation of all of the organizations and their leadership, dividing workers from each other therefore only benefiting employers, costing millions, and reducing the strength of all progressive forces everywhere.  It has to stop now for the sake of the labor movement and workers everywhere, especially in the healthcare industry.

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SEIU Wins Again at Kaiser, But Militant Minority Grows

       by Steve Early

Steve Early

Steve Early

Thirty-one months ago, when the Service Employees International Union first defeated the National Union of Healthcare Workers in a unit of 45,000 service and technical workers at Kaiser Permanente in California, SEIU leader Dave Regan proclaimed that “NUHW is now, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant.”

That obituary proved a little premature. Rank-and-file supporters of NUHW remained alive and kicking, not only at Kaiser but also in other healthcare workplaces around the state. Using member-based internal and external organizing methods, NUHW largely bucked the national tide of concession bargaining in nearly 20 new units composed of previously unorganized workers or SEIU defectors.

With strong financial backing from its new affiliation partner, the California Nurses Association (CNA), NUHW has been gearing up since January for a re-run of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election at Kaiser. SEIU won the first round in October 2010 with 18,290 votes to NUHW’s 11,364.

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Wade Rathke Reads the Tea Leaves on Huge SEIU-NUHW Decert in California

by Wade Rathke

red-vs-purple-nuhw-seiu-a-200x184New Orleans  First come the disclaimers.   I have no stomach for this 5 year saga in California that has created a huge rift in the labor movement as folks picked sides between the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the National Union of Healthcare Workers’  (NUHW).  Depending on how you line up, NUHW is either a principled group of dissidents trying to reform SEIU and the whole labor movement and bring it back to its roots or a band of renegades who broke when they didn’t get everything on their Christmas list from SEIU.

Regardless the ballots are now out to the workers of the huge 45,000 member bargaining unit at Kaiser Hospitals on the question of whether or not to decertify the existing bargaining unit, SEIU, or to certify NUHW.  Starting May 1st the ballots are due and the counting will begin, perhaps to put an end to all of this or maybe to simply open another chapter in his horrible mess.  This is a re-run election.  SEIU won the first round by a large margin, but the election was overturned by the NLRB based on findings of unfair labor practices in the way that Kaiser favored SEIU before the vote.

[Readers may be interested in our recent reports on the upcoming SEIU-NUHW election by Carl Finamore Steve Early,  and Harold Meyerson,  as well as coverage of the  background to this election.–Talking Union]

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The Big Do-Over at Kaiser

Which way will 45,000 California healthcare workers swing? The answer has major implications for labor

By Steve Early

Steve Early

Steve Early

For seventy years, there was no bigger union representation vote in the private sector than the 2010 election involving 45,000 workers at Kaiser Permanente (KP), the giant health care chain in California. Now, the same labor and management parties are engaged in a costly re-match with wider implications for labor.

The initial election pitted the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) against its new California rival, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). SEIU, the incumbent union, retained its bargaining rights by the healthy margin of 18,290 to 11,364. But, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), that victory was tainted by SEIU misbehavior similar to that of anti-union employers—the kind of tactics usually termed “union-busting.” Over SEIU’s objections, the NLRB ordered a re-run of unprecedented scale.

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Just What Workers Need: More Labor Civil War

by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

As a rule, most merger or affiliation announcements between two organizations tend to the celebratory: Each group brings a proud history and now have joined together to create an even prouder future, yadda yadda. But not last Thursday’s press release from the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA), which proclaimed its affiliation with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) in an announcement largely devoted to attacking the presumed perfidy of the Service Employees International Union, with which NUHW has been engaged in a prolonged blood feud that puts the Hatfields and McCoys to shame.

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CNA and NUHW Join Forces Against SEIU in California

by Steve Early

cna+NUHW(Jan 3, 2013) Today, the California Nurses Association (CNA) and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) announced a formal affiliation, solidifying an already potent alliance. Two of the biggest strikes against concessions in the last 16 months were conducted by members of the CNA and NUHW. Their target each time was Kaiser Permanente, the giant California health care chain that made $6 billion in profits since 2009 but still wants union job cuts and contract givebacks.

Last August, CNA and NUHW formed an “Alliance of Kaiser Unions” dedicated to “raising standards for Kaiser caregivers and protecting Kaiser patients.” In its founding statement, the Alliance blasted the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the SEIU-dominated Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions (CKPU) for choosing “to partner with Kaiser to increase the corporation’s profitability at the expense of their own members and patients.” The CKPU includes both AFL-CIO and Change To Win affiliates.

On January 3, CNA and NUHW took their recent workplace collaboration a step further, unveiling NUHW’s formal affiliation with CNA at a press conference in Oakland attended by activists from both unions. CNA and NUHW will now jointly seek decertification of SEIU in a unit of 43,000 service and technical employees at Kaiser.

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The Big One is Coming Strikes Rattle California Hospitals

By Carl Finamore

Nurses Union convention

California nurses pour into their September 14-16 NNU national convention in San Francisco chanting "Strike!, Strike!, Strike!"

The sudden release of stored energy could easily describe earthquakes, of which we are very familiar in California. But this week, tremors of a different sort will shake the state from north to south.

The sudden release of pent up frustrations from more than 23,000 registered nurses at 34 Northern and Central California hospitals will explode to the surface in a one-day strike on Thursday, September 22.

The work stoppage affects two of California’s largest and most profitable hospital chains, Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente, as well as Children’s Hospital Oakland.

“The strike at Sutter comes after nine months of failed negotiations,” Deborah Burger, RN, told me. Burger is president of National Nurses United (NNU) and co-president of its affiliate, the California Nurses Association (CNA).

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Labor’s Tangled Web: A Review of Civil Wars in U.S. Labor by Steve Early

by Carl Finamore

Steve Early, The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor

Steve Early, The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor

“There are no shortcuts in politics,” bellowed a respected, much-older labor veteran as we young militants sat around hoping to pick up a few things. “No gimmicks, no tricks, you only end up fooling yourself.”

In his book, only working class people themselves could solve the enormous social problems of war, poverty and discrimination. He emphasized that no matter how difficult it is to achieve, politics should be measured by how it helps or hinders the direct involvement and political empowerment of working people. There was no getting around it.

That was some 40 years ago but I never forgot it.

This conversation from so many years past still resonated with me after reading Steve Early’s new book, The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor. In fact, some pages seem taken straight from my mentor’s own voluminous book of experience, as when Early concludes that “instead of unions that are top down and top heavy, too employer friendly and detached from their base, we need more that are lean and mean at the top, plus strong, broad and deep at the base.”

But Civil Wars does not simply offer a radical critique of current union policies. It does much more. It vividly describes, analyzes and contrasts actual labor experiences of the difficult and tumultuous recent past.

All is presented through the practiced eyes of an experienced journalist who served as both a labor organizer and union staff person for over 30 years.

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Union reactions to Obama’s Chamber Speech

by Mike Elk

Mike Elk

Many in the labor movement objected to President Barack Obama speaking at the Chamber of Commerce this week. Yet there was little protest from AFL-CIO leaders to the president’s speech.

For the first time, President Obama ventured over to the Chamber of Commerce to speak. While the speech was full of the usual platitudes of most Obama speeches, what mattered most was not what he said, but the speech’s symbolism. By speaking at the Chamber, President Obama was offering an olive branch to the very organization that has led attacks against him.

The president defended some of his regulatory agenda and tax policies. He also called on CEOs to create more jobs in America. But he made no mention of the Chamber’s tolerance of union busting policies that lead to nearly 30,000 reported cases of unfair labor practices against U.S. workers by companies every year.

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