Memorial Hospital center of spat between SEIU, new group; election in balance
SANTA ROSA – With a six-year unionization effort at stake, Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital has become a battlefield in a rivalry between national labor giant Service Employees International Union and a fledgling group of its former Northern California leaders.
In April, about 600 hospital nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, radiology and other health care-related technicians were on track to schedule a union election under a petition with the new group, the National Union of Healthcare Workers. But at the final hour, SEIU intervened and stalled proceedings.
The National Labor Relations Board granted SEIU's request to also be on the ballot, but then the union's officials twice filed complaints that further delayed the vote for five more months. During that time, SEIU organizers flocked to the Santa Rosa hospital to campaign, according to interviews with several workers.
Now, in a break with normal policy, a top regional labor official said last week that, despite the outstanding SEIU allegations, the federal agency intends to schedule an election following an Oct. 19 hearing.
"It is a very unusual situation, and normally the election would be blocked until we decided on the merit of the charges,” said Joseph Norelli, San Francisco regional director for the National Labor Relations Board.
The NLRB has dismissed many such complaints filed by SEIU in other elections involving the competing union, officials said. And Mr. Norelli said the board has decided it is not going to wait until the complaint in Santa Rosa is resolved to schedule the election.
Meanwhile, the North Bay Labor Council, which is not affiliated with either union, asked SEIU in a Sept. 29 letter to step down from the campaign, saying, “Memorial workers have chosen NUHW as their union.”
SEIU California spokesman Steve Trossman said the letter is based on “misguided” information.
Four days ago, workers on the Memorial organizing committee hand-delivered a similar request to SEIU’s Santa Rosa office.
“We are appalled at SEIU's last-minute interference into our union election. … You may disagree with the union we have chosen, but it is our decision,” said the letter signed by close to 75 workers.
“[We] were forced to endure a five-month delay because of SEIU’s legal maneuvers. During the delay, nearly 200 of our coworkers were laid off. … In this economy, workers at Memorial cannot afford to be without a union, but that is exactly what you have accomplished.”
It was SEIU’s Northern California branch, United Healthcare Workers West, that actually launched the initial union campaign at Memorial about six years ago, but workers switched their petition to a smaller union in January when SEIU’s executive board instigated a “trusteeship” of the local office.
Mr. Trossman accused the new union of misrepresenting itself in order to gain signatures for the petition submitted in April and that a majority of workers favor SEIU.
Memorial Hospital officials said in an e-mail that, “at St. Joseph Health System-Sonoma County, we remain committed to letting employees choose for themselves whether they wish to be represented by a union, and if so, by which union.”