NUHW in Santa Rosa: a David versus two Goliaths

or six years caregivers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital have worked to form a union. After petitioning for an election this spring and waiting months for the NLRB to clear SEIU’s blocking charges, Memorial workers will have the chance to form their union with NUHW this Thursday and Friday.

The election at Santa Rosa has been an uphill battle featuring a David, the workers at Memorial, versus two Goliaths: St. Joseph Health System and an anti-NUHW campaign by SEIU…

a six-year campaign to secure a fair election

While union organizing campaigns are always difficult, what sets the Memorial campaign apart is that with the help of strong community support, Memorial workers had won an agreement to negotiate ground rules for a fair election from St. Joseph Health System. However, just as they secured a date for their election, caregivers watched that hard-won agreement unravel as SEIU, the third choice on the ballot, refused to agree to fair election terms. SEIU’s refusal to negotiate has meant that management has been free to run an anti-union campaign.

Fair election agreements, as outlined in this document from US Catholic Bishops, Respecting the Just Rights of Workers, specify that union elections be conducted with:

• Respect

• Equal Access to Information

• Truthful and Balanced Communications

• Pressure-Free Environment (for example, no 1-on-1’s with supervisors or mandatory anti-union meetings on paid time)

• Fair and Expeditious Process (for example, no dragging out or delaying the election for the purposes of defeating the union)

• Meaningful Enforcement of the Local Agreement

• Honoring Employee Decisions

Conduct agreements following the above principles had been the hallmark of successful new healthcare organizing drives undertaken by the current leadership of NUHW. In contrast, when workers are unprotected by conduct agreements, employers often engage in coercive and intimidating conduct that creates enormous hurdles for workers to form a union.

Former SEIU organizer Fred Ross wrote an open letter to Memorial caregivers documenting SEIU’s bad faith in regards to their election:

I was disappointed but not surprised when SEIU rejected the offer of former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and Monsignor Brenkle to mediate a fair election agreement, while NUHW accepted. Both SEIU and SJHS fear that if you have a free and fair election process – with no intimidation, retaliation, or negative campaigning – you will vote your conscience and select NUHW: the union whose leaders have stood by you for the past six years. SEIU’s actions have had the effect of encouraging SJHS to mount a very aggressive anti-union campaign.


Caregivers and the Santa Rosa community stand up to an anti-union campaign

Despite previously agreeing to negotiate for fair election guidelines, St. Joseph Health System seized on SEIU’s refusal to accept mediation and undertook an anti-union campaign at Memorial. Caregivers have been subject to 1-on-1 meetings with their supervisors in which they have received information on how to calculate the money that the union would “take” from their paycheck. Management has held “voluntary” meetings with Memorial caregivers where the subjects covered include anti-NUHW materials that come directly from SEIU’s website.

In response, scholars, caregivers, and leaders in the Santa Rosa faith and political communities have stood up to demand a fair election. In fact, a group of clergy and political leaders have formed a Fair Election Oversight Commission that includes Santa Rosa City Councilmember Veronica Jacobi and Monsignor John Brenkle, the pastor of St. Helena Catholic Church. Brenkle offered this assessment of the situation in Santa Rosa:

“The reports we’ve been hearing from workers at the hospital are truly disturbing, SEIU has prevented any ground rules from being set, and workers are facing a hostile atmosphere in what should be a place of healing and caring. When there is behavior by the hospital or by a union that interferes with their right to choose freely, we want workers to be able to report that to an independent body.”


SEIU’s conduct violates its own principles, and actively supports an anti-union campaign

SEIU’s conduct in Santa Rosa, coupled with the allegations of illegal tactics used by SEIU in the June 2009 Fresno homecare election, raise profound questions about what, if any, standards SEIU holds itself to. Given that SEIU had previously agreed to a nation-wide fair election agreement with the US Catholic Bishops, it has serious implications that SEIU has abandoned that agreement in principle and in practice in Santa Rosa.

SEIU-UHW trustee Eliseo Medina responded to NUHW’s offer to negotiate ground rules in Santa Rosa with the following letter:

While we would welcome the opportunity to reach an agreement on ground rules with the employer, we do not believe it serves the interests of Santa Rosa Memorial employees to include a third party whose standing as a labor organization is little more than wishful thinking.

When allies of the workers in Santa Rosa like the North Bay Labor Council, and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and Monsignor Brenkle pointed out to Eliseo Medina that NUHW has the support of Santa Rosa Memorial’s workers, and that those workers, if nothing else, deserved a fair election in which to make their choice of union representation, Medina and SEIU’s response went beyond silence.

While rejecting efforts by religious leaders and labor allies across the country to intervene, SEIU launched a nasty anti-union campaign aimed at undermining workers’ support for their chosen union. Rather than encouraging workers to organize around their shared concerns, SEIU launched a smear campaign, bombarding workers with dozens of mailers including grotesque cartoons of union leaders loading bags of dues money into a truck. (See the mailer for yourself.)

It is precisely this kind of deceptive negative campaigning that a fair election agreement would forbid. In contrast, the workers organizing with NUHW have taken a different approach, an election campaign rooted in the workers’ own concerns and the reasons they’re forming a union.

That anti-union mailer is a symptom of how low SEIU has stooped in its “stop at nothing” campaign to defeat NUHW, a campaign that now seems bent on denying workers at Santa Rosa Memorial their chance to join any union.


a David against two Goliaths

Santa Rosa Memorial caregivers have worked for six years for this moment. Little did they know when they began that they would be up against both a health care corporation and an anti-NUHW drive by SEIU. As Randy Shaw writes in an excellent article summarizing the meaning of this election in Beyond Chron:

SRMH workers begin casting ballots Thursday, with votes tabulated Friday night. The outcome hinges on whether the massive anti-union campaign jointly waged by SEIU and management convinces enough workers to reject the demonstrable financial benefits and increased job security that comes with joining a union.

Shaw emphasizes, however, that a pro-union vote in Santa Rosa could “end labor’s year on a triumphant note.”

You can help and stay informed by joining NUHW’s Facebook Solidarity group.

{Paul Delehanty is an employee of  NUHW, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, a vibrant and democratic movement of healthcare workers, dedicated to dignity, justice, and healthcare for all.}

One thought on “NUHW in Santa Rosa: a David versus two Goliaths”

  1. As Fred Ross and Randy Shaw note above, after the trusteeship, SEIU closed up shop in Santa Rosa. However, after Memorial caregivers chose to organize with NUHW and secured an election, SEIU then bussed outsiders to Santa Rosa to picket the hospital in an “anti-NUHW” protest.

    Reportedly, not a single Memorial caregiver joined SEIU’s picket.  You can see how some of the Memorial workers responded here:

    For more background on how Memorial workers’ feel about SEIU’s role in their election and their reasons for forming a union listen to this radio interview from this morning’s KPFA Morning Report.

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