Saint Louise caregivers taking back our union with NUHW

Published in the Gilroy Dispatch

I’ve been a respiratory therapist at Saint Louise Regional Hospital for 18 years. I want to tell our community the truth about what’s been going on in our  hospital over the last year, and why things are about to get better.

St Louise Hospital NUHW

For  the last eight years, my co-workers and I have been part of a labor  union. You may have seen us on the sidewalk once or twice with picket  signs, and wondered what was going on.

I helped organize the  union because caregivers at Saint Louise were concerned about our  patients as we worked harder and harder caring for more patients with  not enough staff. We were tired of spending long hours caring for people  in our community, only to come home unable to afford quality healthcare  for our own families. We were tired of having no way to make things  better.

Organizing the union was hard. We weren’t prepared for how  hard hospital administrators would fight to keep us from having a voice  in decisions. They threatened us with discipline and told us we’d lose  everything – but that wasn’t true.

With our union, we finally had a  way to solve the problems we all faced at work. We won contracts in 2002 and 2004 that improved patient care and helped attract and retain good, experienced caregivers.

But while we were moving forward here in Gilroy, trouble was brewing on the other side of the country. Officials of our union’s parent organization had hatched a plan to centralize power in Washington, D.C., and take control of negotiations away from healthcare workers like us.

The Service Employees  International Union wanted more members and more dues money, they didn’t care who they hurt in the process. In time, we saw them make secret deals with nursing home companies to take away residents’ rights, and undermine many of the gains hospital workers had made in California.  Then they tried to take our rights away.

Together in our local union, we stood up to SEIU and told them “No.” In retaliation, they took over our union last year, removed the co-workers we’d elected to represent us, and replaced our elected leaders with unaccountable staff from Washington, D.C.

SEIU took over negotiations at Saint Louise, and settled a contract that is nothing but takeaways – on  scheduling, healthcare, job security, and more. They lied to workers about the deal, and made us vote on a contract we’d never seen. Employees at Saint Louise are sad and upset. Many of us have been targeted and threatened by SEIU.

It’s been painful to see this happen. I spent 10 months of my life under fire from management, organizing this union so that my co-workers and I would have a voice of our own. Now the bullying and intimidation are coming from our own union. We have no voice, and little protection if we speak out for our patients.

Saint Louise workers are taking our union back, by building a new union that belongs to us and no one else. A majority of us petitioned last year to join the National Union of Healthcare Workers, and an election is coming soon so we can make the change official. NUHW was founded by healthcare workers like us, and the experienced negotiators who helped us win our first two contracts are now supporting us in NUHW. Thousands of workers at Kaiser and at hospitals and nursing homes have already joined NUHW.

We’re voting NUHW to restore democracy and integrity to our union at Saint Louise, so we can keep standing up for quality patient care and better jobs in our community.

Kathleen Volle, registered respiratory therapist, Saint Louise Regional Hospital


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

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