First as Tragedy, Then as Farce

by Paul Garver

Dave Regan, current president of the SEIU local United Healthcare Workers’ West (UHW-W), is bitterly complaining about a decision by national SEIU to remove 70,000 home care workers from his 150,000 member local and transfer them to a newly chartered SEIU local in California.

In a missive written sometime after the May 21 decision, as reported in the San Francisco Business Times, Regan charged that SEIU’s decision:

“marks the first time in my 25 years in SEIU the union has knowingly, intentionally, and willfully taken a major action that is contrary to the basic interests of its membership” and called the decision “a massive betrayal of our stated principles and values.”

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry justified the decision to charter the new SEIU Local 2015 that would include 280,000 California home health care workers, including 200,000 transferred from UHW-W and other SEIU locals in California, as uniting all long-term care members in California into one strong union with the clear goal of winning $15 an hour and a union for everyone in the state who provides care and support to seniors and people with disabilities.”

According to Regan, “This decision is malicious and undertaken with the full knowledge that the interests of California healthcare workers are being sacrificed to the political needs of Mary Kay Henry.  We are ashamed and embarrassed for our Union.”

A clear clash of principles?  David vs. Goliath?  Local union democracy vs. bureaucratic centralism?
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National Union of Healthcare Workers Endorses Sanders

The 2015 Leadership Conference of the NUHW National Union of Healthcare Workers [200 elected rank-and-file leaders] voted 72% to endorse Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for president of the United States. Sanders’ message of reversing economic inequalities; his support for a single-payer health care system, Medicare for All; and his stance of holding HMOs like Kaiser Permanente accountable for failing to comply with mental health parity laws, resonated with NUHW members.

“As a democratic, member-led union, I am grateful for the support of the National Union of Healthcare Workers,” said Sanders. “With their support and the support of hundreds of thousands of union members across the country, we are building a political revolution that will transform American politics.”

“We’ve had a great relationship with Sen. Sanders for years,” said NUHW President Sal Rosselli. “He’s the real thing. He’s been standing up for working Americans for decades. But no president can go it alone; it will take a bottom-up, grassroots movement to change the direction of our country. NUHW is proud to be part of that movement.”

The vote was the culmination of a three-month, bottom-up, democratic process. The union’s Executive Board, consisting of elected rank-and-file members, sent questionnaires to every Republican and Democratic candidate. Union stewards reviewed the questionnaires and discussed the election at monthly steward council meetings at each NUHW-represented hospital, clinic, and nursing home, and discussed the candidates with their constituent members in each facility. And finally, on October 10, leaders from throughout the union gathered in Pasadena to cast their ballots.

Hillary Clinton garnered 17 percent of NUHW members’ vote in the Democratic column. Eighty-six percent voted not to endorse a Republican candidate.

San Francisco Nursing Home Calls Cops on Peaceful Protesters

By Carl Finamore
 photo by NUHW
NUHW picket
A lively San Francisco picket line of 50 caregivers from the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) began their one-day strike of San Francisco Nursing Center (SFNC) in the very early morning hours of Wednesday, July 22, 2015.

NUHW negotiator Dennis Dugan told me the strike was primarily to preserve union-contract Kaiser Foundation health benefits that were unilaterally eliminated after San Diego-based Providence Group Inc. took control of SFNC long-term care facility in May.

 As a result, workers were dumped into a grossly inferior and more expensive healthcare pool of insurance choices. And, since then, the company has refused to negotiate with the union, limiting themselves to email exchanges through a federal mediator.
Nonetheless, despite the disruptions brought upon SFNC by Providence, there were other examples on this day of the warm, compassionate and very human connections in the facility.
For example, convalescing patients in wheelchairs and others sitting on comfortable lounge couches crowded the front lobby area to exchange waves and smiles with their favorite nursing assistant now unaccustomedly out of reach and on picket duty.
“These sudden cuts to our healthcare will make it difficult to recruit quality caregivers in the future,” says Certified Nursing Assistant Marilyn Aquino, “and that will undermine the quality of care SFNC residents receive.”
Several strikers asked of me, “how can we properly care for our elderly and sick patients with our own health in jeopardy because we will be unable to afford full care?”
Of course, healthcare is a huge issue for millions of Americans who often delay care because of the expense. This is a matter of record. However, when this reality hit the low-paid workforce at SFNC who previously enjoyed good contract health benefits, they united as never before.
All In for First Strike
This was the first strike ever at the facility and for almost everyone on the picket line, mostly Latinas and Filipinas, it was their first time too. So, workers reported with great pride their 100 percent participation in the one-day strike.
It was a start. Everything was going fine. A 12 noon rally of several dozen community and union supporters lifted spirits and was topped off by pizza, snacks and drinks being spread around.
So, when a San Francisco patrol car with two cops showed up at around 1pm, everyone took it in stride. The pickets did not stop moving and the chants did not stop echoing. Everyone assumed it was just a routine check – maybe asking folks to keep the sound down or cautioning us about street traffic.
But, it turned out to be anything but routine.
These cops were actually called by the SFNC administration to arrest prominent members of a community delegation that had just entered the facility to parlay with the employer.
The delegation facing arrest included SF Board of Supervisor John Avalos; top aides of two other city Supervisors; Tim Paulson, Executive Director, SF Labor Council and leaders from SEIU 87, the Filipino Community Center and the Chinese Progressive Association.
Incredulously, to make this scene on the inside all the more absurd, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, a supporter of NUHW workers and the strike, was himself picketing outside.
Paulson told me that the company’s security officer told him “you are trespassing” and that you have to leave or be subject to arrest. But Paulson and the others refused to leave before speaking with the onsite administrator and delivering the delegation’s message that “these striking workers and NUHW do not stand alone.”
The security guard was told that the delegation had elected officials along with union and community representatives who all believed it unacceptable to “unilaterally scrap existing health benefits and impose other sick day and vacation cuts while refusing to bargain.”
And, according to NUHW, this is exactly the record of the new owners.
Instead of negotiating with NUHW directly, Dugan continued, the company hires notoriously anti-union Los Angeles attorney Josh Sable who represents another nursing home operator under investigation for poor care and “flagrant disregard for human life” according to the Sacramento Bee.
A bad sign indeed.
“So, actually,” Dugan commented to me, “while the whole confrontation inside SFNC unfolding before our eyes looked ridiculous and was quite shocking, it is not all that surprising.”
The new owners have been stonewalling us from the beginning, he said. “In fact, the community delegation got a dose of SFNC’s new style of bargaining,” Dugan mused.
Nothing like this in recent memory has happened at SFNC where good union contract benefits were enjoyed by the workers who, at the same time, maintained SFNC’s state-sanctioned standards at a very high level.
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Providence has come in and broken it,” an exasperated Dugan told me.
Let’s Talk This Over
Indeed, the new owners’ old, outmoded command and control style of management was on vivid display for all the delegation to see. But when community representatives refused to budge until they spoke with an onsite administrator, who apparently was holed up in his office, a rapid-fire series of phone calls between company representatives ensued and a semblance of sanity was eventually restored.
Delegation members reported to me that, finally, the onsite administrator crawled out of his office to report a phone call from the Providence CEO from Los Angeles “that he did not like the strike, did not want another one and was very eager to begin negotiations with the union.”
As a result, a union organizer told me that the whole day was considered by the workers as a big success: “Our message was heard loud and clear – the company’s anti-worker behavior is not acceptable in San Francisco and when it is attempted, we mobilize extensive community outrage against it.”
Carl Finamore is Machinist Lodge 1781 delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He was outside on the NUHW picket line looking on the inside where all the fun was happening. He can be reached at

Who Will Be The Next NUHW 16?

by Steve Early

Steve Early

Steve Early

The price of campaigning for union reform can be high. Dissidents in the U.S. labor movement have been fired, blacklisted, and beaten up. In 1969, one was even murdered along with his wife and daughter. (See Yablonski, Joseph A.) In some unions, critics of the leadership face internal discipline, which can lead to fines, suspension, or expulsion.When rebellious rank-and-filers get dragged into court, it’s usually because officials sued them for libel or “copyright infringement” (involving the union logo) to inhibit free speech or shut down opposition websites and Facebook pages.

But that was before the “NUHW 16.” Their four-year legal persecution has become a case study in how a big labor organization, with deep pockets, can make an object lesson of former loyalists who became dissidents, sided with the members, and dared to disobey the dictates of higher union authority.

Oakland lawyer Dan Siegel, who represents these defendants, has been handling cases arising under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) since the 1970s. Yet he has “never seen a situation where an international union was using the federal law designed to protect union democracy to sue union dissidents”—until now.

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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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