On September 15th, 44,000 Kaiser health care employees in California begin to cast their votes in the largest union election in private industry since the 1940s. As the Wall Street Journal noted, the outcome of our election may well determine the future of the labor movement for years to come. Not only Kaiser employees, but American workers in general, have a stake in a fair, clean election, an election free of outside interference. I am a Kaiser Permanente employee. I have worked in health care for many years. I have great respect for the managers with whom I work, and I am also a member of SEIU. I am concerned about the integrity of the coming election. I am not an attorney, and I am not writing about some technicalities in fine print. I am writing about a fundamental wrong on which the entire election is now based.
On August 4th, all employees, myself included, received a letter that stated: “Kaiser Permanente is entirely neutral in the dispute between these two unions. We honor the rights of our employees to choose whether they want to be represented by a union and which union will represent them. We will respect the majority decision and will engage, in good faith, in union bargaining. This is not merely our legal obligation; it is a fundamental value of our organization.”
At first I was elated by the sentiments, especially the principle of non-interference, expressed in the letter. But soon, I realized that Kaiser did intervene in the electoral process. Big time.
Kaiser summarily took away the raises and benefits of their Southern California employees in three professional units — RNs, Pysch-Social Professionals and Healthcare Professionals — after those workers voted overwhelmingly in January 2010 to be represented by NUHW. It was as if Kaiser, backed by SEIU, told the voters: “If you dare to support NUHW, your benefits are no longer safe.” That in fact became the theme of SEIU’s opportunist campaign in an election focused on which union could best protect our benefits.
The action was not only illegal, it utterly destroyed the chance of a fair election. Only in the last days of the campaign has the NLRB ruled that Kaiser’s action was illegal. Far too late to repair the damage caused by Kaiser and SEIU (A court date has been set for 10/19, long after the voting in California will be closed).
I am not concerned with Kaiser’s intentions. Motives, which are always somewhat elusive, are not the issue. It’s the illegal action and its consequences that may sully the biggest election in our history.
Nor were the Kaiser cuts a minor side issue touching a small number of employees. The cuts that took place in Southern California reverberated throughout the entire state. Everyone heard about and read about them from SEIU.
The entire 30-to-40 million-dollar SEIU campaign was predicated on Kaiser’s illegal action. Kaiser forced NUHW to divert funds and energy to defend itself against a cynical disinformation strategy launched by SEIU. SEIU deliberately magnified the impact of Kaiser’s illegal action. Robo calls, daily glossy mailings, thousands of SEIU paid staff deluged Kaiser workers with a false claim: “Join NUHW, you lose your benefits.”
After the NLRB ruling, SEIU did a slick maneuver. Its mailers said: If you join NUHW, you have to go to court to get your benefits. One of the last mailers before the ballots came in the mail alluded to the cuts, mocking NUHW for going to court to reverse an illegal action.
With a ruthlessness not seen since the McCarthy era, SEIU turned the cuts into a public flogging of NUHW. If NUHW has any chance of winning the election by a significant margin, those hopes were dashed by Kaiser’s collusion with SEIU.
Kaiser’s illegal intervention may well render the SEIU election null and void.
SEIU has left a trail of misdeeds in the last few months. Acts of intimidation, the deliberate monopolization of communications in the workplace, de facto monopoly of mail and phone, the profligate misuse of union dues, dues turned against the workers who paid them — these are just some of the features of an election polluted by SEIU leaders’ lust for power.
And the stench of big money will linger at our workplace long after the votes are counted. Corporations buy elections. That’s bad enough. Meg Whitman buys elections with her own superfluous wealth. But SEIU buys elections with our money. It is obscene. It is an outrage.
We are witnessing the destruction of labor democracy before our eyes. And sadly, like the days of McCarthyism, working people are sucked into the vortex, participating in, possibly ratifying, their own demise.
The infamy of this multi-million dollar union fiasco is a public matter, and it is not too soon for rank-and-file members, for all unions, to raise their voices. An attack on union democracy, on the right to vote in union elections, free of corruption and outside inteference, is not negotiable.
It is my hope that the AFL-CIO, the Labor Councils of California, from L.A. to Sacramento, will take a stand. At minimum, pass formal statements of concern, in defense of democratic unionism. We ignore autocracy at our peril.
Name of author withheld to avoid reprisals.Filed under: Archive