A timeline of labor union's self immolation in California and the Southwest
Created by zimbert on Jul 15, 2009
Last updated: 03/11/10 at 01:39 PM
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Workers at Children’s Hospital in San Diego believe by this time, another union will come in to organize them. “I’ve talked to some unions…” one worker said, “but they want to wait a year or two because if they come in here, they don’t want SEIU to raid them somewhere else.”
Tens of thousands of workers in healthcare facilities across California petitioned to choose between SEIU-UHW, NUHW, or no union. The largest fraction of these workers are the 50,000 union employees at 29 Kaiser hospitals and 200 clinics who observers believe to be solidly in favor of NUHW. SEIU has blocked the elections with legal maneuvers. If the vote comes to fruition, it will mean NUHW is here to stay. If this and other votes are held up indefinitely or never happen, SEIU will quite likely have dealt a crippling blow to NUHW, at least for the foreseeable future.
After SEIU's win in Fresno, the next big vote is scheduled for September, and you can expect more advertisements along these lines. Thirty-five thousand homecare workers in Sacramento and San Francisco Counties will choose between SEIU-UHW, NUHW or no union.
About 10,000 long-term care workers in Fresno County vote to stay in SEIU-UHW. SEIU spends millions of dollars in the campaign, which was widely cast as turning point for NUHW’s longevity. Both SEIU and NUHW level incendiary charges against one another to the delight of anti-union groups. Randy Shaw, an expert labor observer, writes that NUHW demonstrated staying power.
SEIU absorbs the UNITE faction of the UNITE-HERE union of textile, restaurant and hotel employees. SEIU and UNITE-HERE had been longtime Change to Win allies and SEIU’s intervention in Unite-Here is condemned by all but one international union president during the UNITE-HERE’s June convention in Chicago. The video was made by allies of UNITE-HERE.
The scheduled decertification vote that would have likely expelled SEIU from the hospital was scheduled for March 24 and 25. By this time, workers sympathetic to the union said they could only muster a fraction of the votes necessary to win. They said most workers were worn out and turned off by a six-year anti-union campaign that capitalized in the end on the union’s civil war.
SEIU-UHW, now under new management, informs its 750 workers in the union bargaining unit at Children’s Hospital - San Diego that they no longer wish to represent the workers. "March 23, 2009 SEIU Local 2028 wishes to inform you that effective immediately, SEIU, Local 2028 hereby disclaims any interest whatsoever in representing the workers at Rady Children's Hospital - San Diego. The Union is hereby ceasing, completely and absolutely, in every respect whatsoever, its representation of any worker at Rady Children's Hospital - San Diego. SEIU, Local 2028 has already communicated to the National Labor Relations Board that it is disclaiming any interest whatsoever in representing the workers at Rady Children's Hospital - San Diego, and has notified the NLRB that is hereby ceasing its representation of workers at Rady Children's Hospital - San Diego."
About 91,000 workers at 350 California healthcare facilities petition to leave SEIU-UHW and to NUHW.
The first order of business: to get the membership of UHW out of SEIU and into the new union.
SEIU fires scores of elected leaders of UHW and replaces them with staff loyal to the Washington D.C.-based headquarters. The exiled officials create a new rival union. Many sympathetic to labor see the takeover, dismissal and rivalry as a great tragedy.
Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th President. SEIU officials said they spent $60 million to elect Obama and dispatched thousands of organizers on his campaign’s behalf.
Mainstream media outlets like the Wall Street Journal begin reporting that some unions in Change to Win see the enterprise as a failure, and have begun back channel talks to find a way back into the AFL-CIO. The move is seen as recognition of SEIU’s growing unpopularity in movement circles.
The Los Angeles Times prints an award winning investigation into financial corruption by the leader of SEIU’s affiliate of homecare workers. Union staffers sympathetic to SEIU accuse UHW of inappropriately leaking the material to the Times.
By this point, labor insiders said the conflict between SEIU and UHW was headed towards mutual assured destruction.
Children’s Hospital administrators and their attorneys, through bizarre and ultimately discredited legal reasoning, refuse to honor the contract and ban union staff from even talking with workers at their facilities. This created months of investigations by government regulators into charges that the hospital was violating labor law. The government's investigation concluded in March 2009 with a five part consolidated complaint (tantamount to an indictment, union staff say) by the government against (1) the hospital for coercion and intimidation of employees sympathetic to the union, (2) their refusal to recognize the union and contract, and (3) their failure to grant union staff access to represent the workers. The union hoped to force a trial with the hospital, but hospital administrators got a favorable settlement with the government, allowing then to deny any blame for their actions. Local union staff were shut out from the deliberations. The settlement was signed on October 1, 2008—and for the first time in 19 months, the union had access to the facility and the workers, but the damage had been done. Union officials involved would agree that restricting access and representation rights to workers for nearly two years was the turning point in the fight to maintain the union representation the employees had voted for three times previously. Academic labor researchers like Kate Bronfenbrenner at Cornell University have cited employer's monopoly of access as one of the main reasons employers thwart union efforts.
Children’s Hospital workers agree to contract terms that were initially rejected in 2006. It is a two-year deal that only guarantees raises that were unilaterally implemented by administrators months earlier. It was not a very good contract, but was the first agreement with a private healthcare employer in San Diego County. That in itself was a great achievement. There would be no labor peace however. A month into the contract, administrators and their attorneys announced that they were not obligated to respect any of the contractual rights in the contract, hospital management banned union staff from the premises, and stated they no longer recognized the existence of the union.
Hospital management move a decertification petition among the workers to force a fourth vote on union representation at Children’s Hospital. Labor organizers say management was determined to do whatever was required to rid itself of the union. This particular vote would be delayed for nearly two years as the union continued to file unfair labor practices with government regulators against the hospital. Union staff charged hospital officials were not recognizing the union, the contract, or the employee’s rights. Government regulators would ultimately rule that the union was right, but more than a year later and without a remedy to null the advantage gained by anti-union forces.
Negotiations between the union and Children’s Hospital administrators collapse. Union leaders reject a contract proposed by administrators on the grounds that it would weaken union negotiations elsewhere. And administrators continue to stonewall compromise.
Labor leaders release an investigation exploring the deepening rift between SEIU and its Oakland-based division, United Healthcare Workers-West. The Dale-Balanoff report provides one perspective for readers wanting to know more about the conflict and SEIU's restructuring in California.
Children’s Hospital stalls negotiations for over a year. Workers frustrated with the lack of progress and supported by an anti-union campaign funded by management, file for an election to vote the union out. However, the measure failed (as did a second attempt) and workers voted again to be represented by SEIU. All told, hospital employees had to vote three times for the union since 2004 against fierce opposition from their bosses. A fourth vote was scheduled days before SEIU withdrew from the hospital.
SEIU, Unite-Here and five other unions establish Change to Win Coalition, a new labor partnership critical of the AFL-CIO for its reluctance to organize new members. By this time, SEIU is at or near its peak of organizing workers in friendly and unfriendly territory alike.
Seven months after Children's Hospital workers narrowly vote to join SEIU in a secret-ballot election, multiple challenges by hospital administrators to invalidate the election are dismissed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which oversees such elections and workers’ rights in unionizing. The Union is officially recognized.
Representatives from SEIU begin knocking on doors San Diego looking for strong workers to help form and lead a union at Rady Children’s Hospital.