by Htun Lin
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced the results of the recent union election at Kaiser Permanente in California. The media declared that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) had won a “decisive victory” to continue to represent some 45,000 Kaiser workers by fending off a challenge from an upstart union, National United Healthcare Workers (NUHW).
The final vote was about 18,000 votes for SEIU and 11,000 for NUHW. Most journalists failed to mention that about 16,000 did not vote for any of the available choices.
This was no victory, no vote of confidence, for any of the parties concerned. This vote came out of a climate of fear and disinformation manufactured by SEIU, with the help of management. SEIU not only slandered the opposition, but the Kaiser-SEIU Labor-Management-Partnership (LMP), in clear violation of federal regulations, openly colluded in denying bonuses and wage increases to workers who favored NUHW.
NUHW had filed numerous complaints with the NLRB, but federal agents deliberately did not act until the voting was over. The NLRB is only now issuing fines against Kaiser management. As with all corporate fines, they will be absorbed as just another cost of doing business.
Nearly $40 million was spent by SEIU to win this election. That level of spending for 18,000 votes amounts to about $2,000 per vote. That cost is our cost. Our shop brings SEIU $40 million in dues per year. It is an abomination that our money was used to defeat us.
SEIU even outsourced much of the campaign to out-of-state organizers, using robo-calls and other harassment techniques perfected in its hostile takeovers of competing unions.
Union business agents consider our shop a cash cow. It is hard to distinguish between the SEIU and “revenue-enhancement” drives of management. The LMP removed quality care as a union issue, which had been an obstacle to Kaiser’s “revenue enhancement” as the top priority. Management payback was to help SEIU in this election.
Now it’s difficult to distinguish SEIU tactics from standard corporate tactics to intimidate and instill fear during organizing campaigns. It was willing to break any law and use intimidation, all to convince workers that the power was against them and that they could not succeed. It even fired hundreds of its own dissenting shop stewards. This, as any organizer can tell you, is what management does all the time. This time management was SEIU.
Countless SEIU leaflets contained propaganda disinformation which claimed that a vote for NUHW was a vote which “puts at risk” all the “hard-won gains” in the current contract. Kaiser already had denied contractual raises to nurses in southern California who voted for NUHW.
The message was clear: Wages guaranteed by the contract, bonuses and even job security were put at risk by voting for NUHW. This was followed by the clincher–“And who can afford that in this kind of economy?”
The phrase “in this kind of economy” was constantly repeated by SEIU during the campaign, and Kaiser backed them up with a threat to take away the minuscule raises guaranteed in our existing contract as well, in clear violation of federal law.
SEIU also got to “organize” other shops by making sweetheart deals with sweatshop employers. For SEIU “this kind of economy” is an opportunity to organize for the benefit of capitalists and promote their bottom line.
As one rank-and-filer said: “I hear people say, Be thankful you have a job. That is such a ‘lie down and let management walk all over you’ copout!…The sad thing about this situation is that SEIU upper echelon and management have become very intimate over the years and SEIU has lost its focus on caring for its members…. Kaiser profited over $2 billion last year and they still ‘had’ to lay off employees.
“How can SEIU sit back and let this happen? Because they are just as sleazy as the management they are pretending to oppose.”
Business unions approach union organizing just like any other kind of business, looking at the bottom line, our job security be damned. That’s why, though SEIU received 18,000 votes in this election, 27,000 of us did not vote for SEIU; 16,000 did not vote for either SEIU or NUHW, both of which support the existing LMP. Now is the time for us workers to think about organization in a totally new way.