Rival group gets NLRB approval for September election

NORTH BAY, CALIFORNIA – Kaiser Permanente employees throughout the region will be able to officially vote on whether to remain with the Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West, the union that currently is in place, or join its rival offshoot, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, the National Labor Relations Board announced last week.

The vote, which will be conducted by mail-in ballots rather than an on-site election, will take place on Sept. 13 and will last three weeks. All ballots must be counted by Oct. 4, according to the NLRB. The employees will also have the choice of voting for no union at all.

Nearly 43,000 Kaiser workers will take part in the vote, which is believed to be one of the largest votes in state history for a private employer. The two unions have fought bitterly for control, and the Kaiser elections are seen as pivotal to the success of NUHW as a new union, or could solidify SEIU-UHW’s position as the largest health care union on the West Coast.

Meanwhile, NUHW said today that 48 former SEIU-UHW shop stewards at Kaiser Santa Rosa announced they were resigning their posts with SIEU-UHW, which is the current representing union at Kaiser hospitals, to throw their support behind NUHW.

“While we make this decision with a heavy heart, we are confident that the best future for our coworkers is with NUHW and not SEIU-UHW,” the stewards said in a letter dated Aug. 2. “We are confident that we will emerge from this with a strong, democratic and effective union.”

About 1,250 employees in Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park will participate in the vote; in San Rafael, about 800; in Napa, about 120; in Fairfield, about 113; in Vacaville, about 550; and in Vallejo about 1,900. The vote will include medical assistants, respiratory therapists, medical records clerks and housekeepers at the numerous Kaiser facilities.

Oakland-based Kaiser has said it will remain neutral in the labor battle.

A spokesman for the NLRB in Oakland said the mail-in vote was preferred given the scope of the statewide elections, and that coordinating on-sight elections would be logistically challenging because there are no voting machines.

The NUHW also preferred a mail-in vote as a means to prevent potential voter intimidation, spokeswoman Sadie Crabtree said. The SEIU, however, previously called on the NUHW for a swift work-place vote, arguing that NUHW was delaying a vote that it had original petitioned for, thus prolonging a vote that SEIU is confident in winning.