“With God on Our Side” by Adam Reich – A Review

By Carl Finamore

With God on Our Side” is a very catchy book title. It also appears at first glance to be quite topical because mention of religion so dominates, and distorts many would add, political discussion in this country.

For that reason, curiosity may initially draw the reader’s eye. But the subtitle “The Struggle for Workers’ Rights in a Catholic Hospital” gives it all away. This is a book about organized labor and workers.

This is usually where most readers take flight. But that would be a mistake because it is so much more.

Books about labor post dreadfully low sales, true enough. Nonetheless, Adam Reich has written a very readable and colorful “story of worker leaders” at the largest and most prestigious hospital in the northern California town of Santa Rosa.

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SEIU Fails to Sabotage California Hospital Organizing Victory

paul-garver-edited by Paul Garver

On December 18, 2009, caregivers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in Sonoma County, California, voted for representation by the National Union of Health Workers (NUHW). SEIU had poured in forty organizers to block NUHW’s electoral victory, but secured only 13 votes for SEIU against 283 for NUHW. However SEIU’s ham-handed intervention, which focused almost exclusively on attacking the NUHW, did succeed in boosting the No Union vote to 263, nearly frustrating the workers’ right to organize. For more details on the election outcome, see Randy Shaw’s article in BeyondChron.

NUHW’s narrow electoral victory was the first fruit of the six-year campaign to organize the St. Joseph’s Health System. After imposing its trusteeship over United Healthcare Workers-West, SEIU suspended the campaign, leaving the Santa Rosa Memorial caregivers in the lurch. Former SEIU organizer Fred Ross Jr. wrote an open letter describing this history that recently appeared on Talking Union.

However the newly-formed insurgent NUHW was able to file an election petition in April 2009 with majority support. Forming a de facto alliance with the hospital adminstration, SEIU managed to delay the election for five months, and blocked negotiations over ground rules that would have permitted the fair and free union election urged by religious leaders.

Talking Union has covered the unfolding story of the civil war between SEIU and the NUHW for more than a year. A superb analysis of the background for this conflict is Bill Fletcher and Nelson Lichtenstein’s article on the In These Times blog site entitled SEIU’s Civil War: American workers need a labor movement grounded in social justice, not fractured, fighting unions.