The nation’s largest nurses union and the fastest growing healthcare workers union are joining forces in what they say is an effort to fight for higher labor standards in the healthcare industry. The first-of-its-kind healthcare union affiliation comes as Kaiser Permanente workers prepare to decide on which union will represent them.
The California Nurses Association represents 85,000 nurses across the state and the National Union of Healthcare Workers checks in with 10,000 members. The unions say they’ve been working together since the early 1990s on issues of mutual concern and it was about time they formalized their relationship.
“It’s a legal affiliation whose time has come,” said Sal Roselli, President of The National Union of Healthcare Workers OR NUHW.
Roselli formerly led the Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers West. In 2009, that union ousted him and several other union executives over disagreements on hospital contracts and strategy. Under this new affiliation, the National Union of Healthcare Workers and the California Nurses Association will maintain separate charters, but work hand-in-hand on bargaining, organizing and governmental matters.
“Our staffs will be integrated. It will be a clear demonstration that we won’t only be acting like one union, we will be one union,” said Sal Roselli.
The National Union of Healthcare Workers and the California Nurses Association will be putting their new unified efforts to the test as they try to convince 43,000 workers at California Kaiser hospitals to vote to jump ship in a government-sanctioned election this spring. Currently, those workers are part of SEIU-UHW.
Deborah Burger is California Nurses Association Co-President. She says SEIU UHW has made too many concessions to Kaiser under the leadership of the current President.
“There’s some very bad choices being made under the leadership of Dave Regan here in California and we need to change that,” she said.
Burger says Regan has conceded to Kaiser’s demands for cutbacks on such issues as pensions, benefits and staffing levels. But, SEIU UHW says the opposite is true and that its members have made steady gains in the past couple of contracts with Kaiser.
“We’ve won fully paid family healthcare with $5 co-pays; defined benefit pensions; the best job security language in the industry and pay raises of three percent a year despite the great recession.” said SEIU UHW Spokesperson Steve Trossman. “This is the best hospital contract in the country.”
In a statement, Kaiser said it provides its employees with industry leading salaries and benefits. The hospital also said it will remain neutral in the upcoming election.
The National Union of Healthcare Workers says the first order of business for the newly affiliated unions is helping Kaiser workers renegotiate their contract with the hospital.
“It will be a game changer, the biggest union election since the 40s. So that will be our collective initial focus, to put all we can into helping those workers win their union back,” said NUHW President Sal Roselli.
Some Kaiser employees welcomed the effort as a way to help insure workplace democracy.
“We know the law protects us and we have the right to form the union of our liking, or choosing,” said Danielle Estrada, a nursing assistant at a Los Angeles Kaiser hospital. “We want to be a part of a democratic union. We have that choice.”
The NUHW/C.N.A. says California hospitals made nearly four-and-a-half billion dollars in profits in 2010, while continuing to demand concessions from unionized workers. As part of the affiliation agreement, NUHW has agreed to pay C.N.A. up to $10 per member per month until by 2014 until it pays off a $2 million it owes C.N.A. for start-up costs.