Tag Archives: EFCA

CA-10: I Received the Endorsement of the SEIU CA State Council

Yesterday I was excited to announce that the SEIU California State Council has endorsed me in my race to represent California’s 10th Congressional District, a Northern California district encompassing parts of Contra Costa, Solano, Alameda, and Sacramento counties. With 700,000 members, SEIU is the largest labor union in California, and their ranks include a broad cross-section of working Californians, including social workers, nurses, classroom aides, security officers, college professors, homecare workers, janitors, and more.

Why I’m motivated to lead on single-payer health care, the Employee Free Choice Act, and green-collar jobs over the flip…

“With health care reform, affordable clean energy, and economic security for our nation’s families at the top of Congress’ agenda, we need leaders in congress who will be a powerful voice for working families in each of these important debates,” said Courtni Pugh, Executive Director of SEIU’s California State Council. “We know that John Garamendi will do just what he’s done in California – be an outspoken champion for people who work hard every day, for the elderly and people with disabilities who need a voice, for parents and their kids who deserve opportunities for a better future. We know John Garamendi won’t compromise our grandparents’ safety or our kids’ future.”

I want to take this opportunity to thank the SEIU California State Council for their important endorsement, and I want to let all of you know that when in Congress, I will continue to fight for progressive legislation that improves the lives of all Americans.

You will hear a lot from me over the coming months and years about the issues that have led me into public service, but given this most recent endorsement, I wanted to cover three issues that matter to working Californians: universal health care, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), and advancing green-collar jobs.

Medicare for All

I support single-payer health care. In 1965 we figured out how to make health care work for everyone – or at least everyone over the age of 65 – it’s called Medicare. Polls have consistently shown that an overwhelming majority of seniors enrolled in Medicare are satisfied with the service provided to them. Medicare provides universal coverage for seniors, is cost-effective, and patients are able to choose their own doctors. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s a significant improvement over a profit-driven private health insurance industry that rewards early termination of coverage for patients in need of care and includes excessive overhead for advertising and administrative costs.

I also think healthcare reform this year must include the public option. As I’ve always said, if we don’t yet have the votes for truly comprehensive universal health care reform, we should not stand in the way of incremental health care reform, provided we are clearly heading down a path toward universal Medicare for All access. My longstanding advocacy on these issues as a state legislator, Insurance Commissioner, and Lieutenant Governor also led the California Nurses Association to endorse my run for Congress, and I am humbled to have the support of nurses.

The Right to Organize

I am also a proud supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). As I explained at a labor rally in March:

“It is time for a change, because the working men and women of America and the working men and women of California have taken the short end of the paycheck for too long. In 1965, the CEOs had a ratio of 24:1 on their paycheck. What happened in the ensuing years? In 1980, it went to $42 for the CEO and $1 for working men and women. In 2006, what happened? It went to $364 for every dollar you earn.”

Approximately 60 million non-unionized Americans say they would join a union if given the opportunity, and when in Congress, I will work to make sure that working men and women have the opportunity to join a labor union without undue delay or fear of unjust termination.

What’s Good for the Planet is Good for Labor

I also believe smart government policy can help create new quality jobs, and with the ravages of global warming and pollution more apparent by the year, the time was yesterday to employ Americans in fields that make our economy more sustainable. Weatherizing buildings, constructing public transportation corridors, and installing wind turbines, solar panels, and other alternative energy sources have and will continue to create quality jobs. If our country is to maintain its status as the world’s innovator, if our country is to retain its economic competitiveness, then a robust investment in green-collar jobs must be a priority for our country.

I was happy to see President Barack Obama appoint Van Jones as his green jobs advisor, and I share his conviction that environmental advocates must focus on demonstrating the interconnectedness of environmental protection and job creation for the working class. And believe me, I am no stranger to this issue.

As a state legislator, I was the author of the first legislation proposing high speed rail in California, and under a proposition I authored (Prop 111), California generated billions of dollars for mass transportation. I also authored a bill that offered the first tax credit in the state for wind turbine construction, including the wind turbines that exist near Fairfield in Solano County. These projects represent the best of California, and the future of our economy. In Congress, I will continually stress the importance of an environmental agenda that works for everyone, including inner city and rural communities and communities of color.

As you may know, today we face an important filling deadline where we have to report contributions from supporters. You know where I stand on these issues, and I plan on addressing your additional comments and questions throughout the week. If you could spare even $5, $10, or $25, our campaign would be most appreciative. If you live in the area and would be interested in volunteering for a strong advocate for working and middle class Californians, please sign up on our campaign website. And of course, I’d love to see you follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Yesterday I was proud to receive the endorsement of SEIU. I would be honored to have your support today.

P.S. I also have a blog post up on Calbuzz about offshore oil drilling with the California Department of Finance’s Tom Sheehy: Calbuzz Face-Off: Drill Baby Drill, Yea or No Way? Check it out and let Calbuzz know what you think.

John Garamendi is the Lieutenant Governor of California and a candidate for California’s 10th Congressional District. He is a University of California Regent and California State University trustee and was California’s first elected State Insurance Commissioner, a former Deputy Interior Secretary under President Bill Clinton, a state legislator, and a Peace Corps volunteer. Please visit http://www.garamendi.org for more information.

Workers to Fast for Employee Free Choice at Feinstein’s SF Office

(Posted by Steve Smith, California Labor Federation)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is going to hear from both sides in the debate over the Employee Free Choice Act this week, but there couldn’t be a more stark contrast in the messenger.

Corporate executives from around the country are attending a lobbying junket to DC on Wednesday organized by the Chamber of Commerce in hopes of persuading Feinstein to join them in opposing labor law reform.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, workers who have been fired or intimidated simply for trying to join a union will gather to begin a two-day fast Wednesday morning at Feinstein’s office to implore her to stand with them by supporting the Employee Free Choice Act.

As the negotiations and wrangling over the bill continue, Feinstein has emerged as a key player. While initially expressing skepticism about the bill (even though she was a co-sponsor of identical legislation in 2007), Feinstein is working with Sen. Harkin and others on seeking a solution that would garner the 60 votes needed for cloture. While political viability is important, the real consideration here must be on how the legislation would help the millions of workers who want a union to better their lives and the lives of their families.

To that end, we must have a bill that would do three things:

    Ensure workers have the freedom to join a union, without harassment and intimidation;
    Increase penalties on corporations that violate the law by firing or threatening workers;
    Provide a timely and fair process for a first contract.

Without meeting those principles, the bill won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on. The next few weeks are critical. With Al Franken expected to be seated soon (knock on wood), the negotiations over the Employee Free Choice Act are headed into overdrive. And that means corporate honchos are going to be leaning heavily on key Senators like Feinstein in a last-ditch effort to derail the bill. And while Washington is a lot bluer than it used to be, make no mistake, corporations still have a stranglehold on power in our nation’s capitol.

CEOs like Lee Scott of Wal-Mart have said they’ll do whatever it takes to prevent the Employee Free Choice Act from passing. They’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a dishonest campaign to defeat the bill. We can’t let them succeed because the fate of this bill is intrinsically tied to the fate of the middle class. While CEOs are fighting to protect their multi-million dollar perks and lavish contracts, workers are fighting for health care, a living wage and safety on the job.

What can you do? Now that we’re in the home stretch of what has been a generation-long struggle for fairness in the workplace, I urge all progressives to take a stand in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. In California, more than 50,000 hand-written letters have already been delivered to Feinstein. Tens of thousands of calls have been made to her offices. Hundreds of impacted workers have visited with her staff across the state. But we must do more to counter the corporate onslaught.

Call Sen. Feinstein and tell her you support the bill. Send a message of support on our Facebook page to the workers who are fasting this week for their rights or, better yet, if you’re in the Bay Area stop by Wednesday or Thursday to show your support.  Let friends and family know that Feinstein needs to hear from them too.

We’ll be out in front of Feinstein’s office Wednesday and Thursday – rain or shine. Hope to see (or hear from) you then.

L.A. City Council Endorses The Employee Free Choice Act

(Always nice to see Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti stop by. – promoted by Dante Atkins (hekebolos))

(originally posted at my blog)

I recently sponsored a resolution in the Los Angeles City Council to express support for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and I am proud to report that on April 28th, the resolution passed the council 13-1.

EFCA, when it becomes law, will make joining a union easier for millions of Americans, a necessity if we are to raise workers’ wages, ensure healthcare coverage for all and rebuild the middle class. The case for it is clear, which makes it all the more frustrating that the bill appears stalled in the US Senate.

As our resolution states, in part:

WHEREAS, the free choice to join with others and bargain for better wages and benefits is essential to economic opportunity and good living standards; and

WHEREAS, unions benefit communities by strengthening living standards, stabilizing tax bases, promoting equal treatment and enhancing civic participation; and

WHEREAS, states in which more people are union members are states with higher wages, better benefits and better schools; and

WHEREAS, union workers receive better wages and benefits, with union workers earning 29 percent more than workers without a union, 35 percent more likely to have access to health insurance and four times more likely to have access to a guaranteed defined-benefit pension; and

WHEREAS, unions help raise workers’ pay and narrow the income gap for minorities and women by increasing median weekly earnings by 31 percent for union women workers, 31 percent for African-American workers, 50 percent for Latino workers and 9 percent for Asian American workers…

It concludes:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, with the concurrence of the Mayor, that by the adoption of this Resolution, the City of Los Angeles hereby includes in its 2009-2010 Federal Legislative Program SUPPORT of HR 1409/S 560, the Employee Free Choice Act of 2009, which would restore workers’ freedom to join a union and, more specifically, amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish an efficient system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts, authorize the National Labor Relations Board to certify a union as the bargaining representative when a majority of employees-voluntarily sign authorizations designating that union to represent them, provide for first contract mediation and arbitration, and establish meaningful penalties for violations of a worker’s freedom to choose a union.

My grandfather on my mom’s side owned a union factory, and like Henry Ford, he understood the importance of decent wages and benefits for his employees. During my tenure on the Los Angeles City Council, time and time again, we’ve seen the widespread benefits of unionization. It’s true that a rising tide can lift all ships and unionization is that rising tide.

Take the fight to unionize L.A. security officers. While the business community was convinced they’d be irreparably harmed by the unionization of these workers, on the contrary, they are thriving, the security officers have better wages and benefits AND Los Angeles is a more secure city as a result. By paying a wage that allows workers to actually support a family, there is lower turnover, the applicants are better trained, emergency response times are faster and as a result our downtown highrises are safer and more secure.

I believe that it is incumbent upon cities – as centers of progressivism, as hubs of social change and, let’s face it, where the people live – to exert whatever pressure we can bring to bear on our leaders to do the right thing. While this resolution is strictly symbolic, I believe it sends a strong message not only to the elected leaders in California but to other local governing bodies around the country to step up and fight for progressive change. It’s like our president said during his historic run for the White House: real change can only come from the bottom up. Well here we are at the bottom urging those at the top to do what’s right and pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

Which Side is Dianne Feinstein On?

As David Dayen pointed out recently, there is one big name missing from the list of supporters of the Employee Free Choice Act – Senator Dianne Feinstein.

The entire California Democratic Congressional Delegation, including Senator Barbara Boxer, has indicated their support for the bill. And Senator Feinstein co-sponsored and voted for the Employee Free Choice Act in 2007.

Now her support is needed more than ever before. Today Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) went out of his way to announce his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. For many supporters of workers’ right to organize, especially supporters of this bill which will help restore the balance in workers’ decision to join a union away from the union-busting industry that helps employers break unions and keep down wages, Specter’s decision is  disappointing. It does mean that it will be more difficult to secure passage of the bill in the Senate.

And that’s precisely why we must insist that Senator Feinstein express her support for the Employee Free Choice Act. To help accomplish that the Courage Campaign is asking its members to sign our petition to Senator Feinstein so that she will know Californians support the Employee Free Choice Act – and that she should as well.

Over the flip is the text of the email we sent to our members.

Dear Robert,

Why is Senator Dianne Feinstein the only Democratic congressional member from California who has not endorsed the Employee Free Choice Act?

The Employee Free Choice Act is an essential piece of our national economic recovery program. It allows workers to organize a union more easily and free from employer interference, giving them the power to more successfully negotiate with large corporations to protect the middle class during this severe recession.

This is one of the most important pieces of legislation this year. President Barack Obama supports it, as do most Democrats, including Senator Barbara Boxer. A Gallup Poll last week found that a clear majority of Americans support the Employee Free Choice Act.

Senator Feinstein, however, has refused to take a position on the bill — even though she co-sponsored it and voted for it in 2007.

With strident Republican opposition, we need every Democratic Senator to support the Employee Free Choice Act.

It’s time we asked Senator Feinstein “which side are you on?” Please sign on to the Courage Campaign’s letter demanding that Senator Feinstein endorse and co-sponsor the Employee Free Choice Act as soon as possible:


Large corporations are now funding a massive campaign to mislead the American people about the Employee Free Choice Act and are using Fox News to spew their lies. They falsely claim it would eliminate the secret ballot for workers to authorize union representation.

Even the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page pointed out that was untrue — the bill merely gives the option for workers to form a union if a majority of them sign cards indicating their support for unionization.

The Employee Free Choice Act will help workers level the playing field with the wealthy and powerful — that’s why a majority of Americans supports its passage. What could possibly prevent Senator Feinstein from endorsing such a progressive bill today — especially when she supported it just two years ago?

Does Senator Feinstein support workers or the large corporations that want to exploit them?

Senator Feinstein needs to hear from you right now. Sign on to our letter to the Senator and tell her that she must side with President Obama and American workers, not Republicans and corporations:


Together, we will provide economic recovery to all American workers — and unite Democrats behind one of the most important progressive goals of the year.

Rick Jacobs

Chair, Courage Campaign

My letter to SEIU

My name is Lisa Tomasian and I’d like to tell you the story behind a letter I wrote to the trustees of SEIU-UHW.

Having worked at Kaiser Hospital as a Radiology Technologist as well as having served as an elected union shop steward for the past 18 years, I believe that workers’ rights are human rights.  I’ve come to believe that labor unions are the vehicle and voice for workers to advocate for social justice.

My story

I grew up in a politically right-leaning household where we were told that Jimmy Hoffa was a mobster and that unions are corrupt.  Being the daughter of a cop, I guess thinking about questions of social justice is ingrained in me. I’m not sure where I got the “question everything” from, but ask questions I do.  That may be why my co-workers initially encouraged me to run in our department to be their shop steward.  I asked a lot of questions and then I ran. I have been repeatedly re-elected over the last 18 years.  And my co-workers have elected me to serve as an elected chief steward, chair for our Steward Council, delegate to the Kaiser Division state council, delegate to the Coalition of Kaiser Unions, elected to serve on bargaining teams to negotiate our contracts.

Reform, Retaliation and Trusteeship

For the last two years, I’ve worked with many of my fellow workers trying to reform SEIU to be more democratic–only to have our local union hit with retaliation after retaliation for standing up for our member’s voices.

At the end of January, as the final act of retaliation against my union’s reform efforts, SEIU President Andy Stern took over my union in a process called trusteeship. He removed all the elected leaders and replaced them with two appointed “trustees,” Eliseo Medina and Dave Regan.

As members of SEIU-UHW we had given our best effort over two years to reform SEIU. But Andy Stern’s trusteeship was his final attempt to silence our voices, and it became clear that the only way to keep workers in charge of our own union is to be out of SEIU. So we formed our own union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), to keep control of the democratic union we built in our facilities.

After trusteeship, the first letter I received from Dave Regan and Eliseo Medina  stated that there would be no changes to our elected Shop Steward structure.  The most recent letter I’ve received, however, said:

“We understand that you no longer share our commitment to build a stronger union and win a strong contract for 2010. Therefore, we have no other recourse than to remove you from your position as an SEIU-UHW Steward.”

I found that interesting, to say the least, since neither of them has ever talked about this with me!

In the old days, pre-trusteeship, the only way an elected steward could be removed was through a recall by the members, the same people who elect us and who we’re accountable to. Not anymore!

After I was removed from my elected position as a shop steward, more letters went out to other advocates for NUHW. The Trustee’s appointee Greg Maron started assessing shop stewards in Northern California. If shop stewards don’t toe the SEIU line or if they say they support NUHW, they receive a letter removing them from their democratically elected positions.  Greg has even stepped it up a bit by going to Steward Council meetings and if they don’t agree with him he suspends the meeting until further notice.  Greg then follows up with letters removing them as shop stewards.

In the face of this, a majority of my 50,000 Kaiser co-workers across California have signed petitions saying they want NUHW to be their union.  The petition should result in a scheduled vote within 45 days.  But, SEIU has been filing NLRB charges (even against their own trustees, believe it or not) to delay our right to vote. One of their charges is the trustees are not representing the workers. Do you think that might have something to do with letting shop stewards go?  In the mean time they are bargaining away our pensions with Kaiser.

My letter to SEIU

The letter I got from the trustees removing me as a shop steward came a week after the appointed SEIU UHW Kaiser director Greg Maron colluded with my boss to announce to them they removed me as a shop steward.  In response, I sent Greg the following letter:

Dear Greg Maron,

We understand that it is your current misunderstanding that you have the power to “remove” Shop Stewards because we want to join another union, we don’t toe the SEIU line, we don’t do what you say, we argue with your scab staff you’ve assigned to our facility, and we don’t respect you, the trustees or SEIU’s “leadership.”

Sadly for you, our members are well educated and empowered to understand that our power comes from the workers, not from some failed attorney who gets to temporarily play “Kaiser Director” while the workers decertify SEIU. They understand that they elected Shop Stewards and that nothing you do or say or write will change that. Ours is a democratic union and of course, your trying to “remove” Shop Stewards because they disagree with you just highlights why 50,000 Kaiser workers will very soon no longer be a part of SEIU’s dictatorship.

But the real point of this letter is not the lost cause of trying to educate you on union democracy. The real point is to make sure you understand the impact of our having filed a petition by the majority of Kaiser workers two weeks ago. The impact of that means that SEIU is no longer the union of Kaiser workers and you are no longer the Kaiser Director.

As such, you are hereby notified that you are no longer recognized by the Kaiser workers as the Kaiser Division Director. Further, Ken Krause and Linda Erickson are no longer recognized as union representatives to the workers of Santa Clara Kaiser.


The Kaiser Workers

Lisa Tomasian CRT/ARRT

Kaiser Santa Clara

NUHW Shop Steward

A new beginning

You might have noticed I signed my letter NUHW Shop Steward.  That happened this last week.  My co-workers were so upset about how the trustees removed their elected steward, we posted a 7 day vote notice and held an election on the seventh day. My department unanimously elected me as their NUHW shop steward.  

If you believe in democracy and believe that the Employees Free Choice Act is for workers to be able to choose without fear or intimidation, call your elected Assembly, Senate and Congress political leaders and tell them that 91,000 healthcare workers at nursing homes and hospitals across California have signed petitions to leave SEIU and join NUHW, and we want to vote without delay. Our elected leaders oversee the National Labor Relations Board and they have the power move the board in the fair and right direction in support of the right of California’s healthcare workers to choose NUHW.


Here’s how you can help:

JOIN our mailing list (by going to the sidebar and signing up for updates). TELL your elected California representatives that you support California healthcare workers’ freedom of choice to form NUHW through fast, free and fair elections, without harassment and intimidation from their employers or from SEIU. (Enter your zip in box and hit enter.) VISIT our website and DONATE to support our movement. And, most importantly, if you have friends or family who are healthcare workers and would like to join our movement to build a vibrant, member-led National Union of Healthcare Workers, please SPREAD THE WORD.

The Great Hospital Organizing Campaign Begins

(Fabulous news.  The labor movement needs unity as much as its individual workplaces need it.  Steven Greenhouse of the NYT has a story about this. – promoted by David Dayen)

Today the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced an accord to work together to bring union representation to all non-union RNs and other healthcare employees in the US.

As Registered Nurses, we know all too well that working in a hospital these days means engaging in a daily struggle to provide care in an industry more concerned about it’s bottom-line than about providing patient care.

Registered Nurses struggle day in and day out to provide care without adequate staffing and resources. Non-RN hospital staff are struggling to fulfill essential hospital functions with ever decreasing numbers of staff, while worrying that they’ll be the next to be laid off.

Our patients, left to wonder if a nurse will be available to help if they ring their call-lights and whether their hospital bills will bankrupt their families are likely the most affected.

Under the pact, SEIU and CNA/NNOC, the largest unions in the nation representing healthcare workers and registered nurses, respectively, will work together to bring union representation to all non-union RNs and other healthcare employees and step up efforts to enact Employee Free Choice Act.

The resulting massive increase in unionization will improve the experience of providing and receiving care in US hospitals—and the resulting movement will change the whole nature of how health care is provided in the US.


In the words of Rose Ann DeMoro, the Executive Director of CNA/NNOC, the nation's largest organization of direct care RNs with 85,000 members in all 50 states:

“This is an exciting new day for nurses and patients across the nation. This agreement provides a huge spark for the emergence of a more powerful, unified national movement that is needed to more effectively challenge healthcare industry layoffs and attacks on RN economic and professional standards and patient care conditions. It will also strengthen the ability of all direct-care RNs to fight for real healthcare reform and advocate for improved patient care conditions and stronger patient safety legislation from coast to coast.”

In the words of Andy Stern, President of SEIU, the nation’s largest healthcare union:

“This marks the beginning of a new future for nurses and other healthcare workers and their patients throughout this nation. We are lining up to make sweeping changes to this country’s broken healthcare system, and as we wait for the starting gun it is imperative that we put the past behind us and move forward by putting all healthcare workers in the strongest possible position to define reform, move legislation, and make the new healthcare system operational. Is this accord surprising? Perhaps, but those who recognize our shared value of making sure registered nurses and other healthcare workers have not only a say but a critical role in helping reshape a failed system into something that actually helps people know that this is the right step to help us meet the challenge and the call of this moment.”


Among key elements of the pact:

• The two unions will work together to organize non-union hospital workers throughout the country, with CNA/NNOC as the leading voice for RNs, and SEIU as the leading voice for all other hospital workers.

• The unions will launch an intensive national organizing campaign with an initial focus on the nation’s largest hospital systems. • In addition to organizing, SEIU and CNA/NNOC will coordinate on a broad range of other issues from bargaining with common employers to the campaign to enact the Employee Free Choice Act.

• SEIU and CNA/NNOC publicly endorse measures that allow states to adopt single-payer health care systems.

• Both parties will refrain from “raiding,” seeking to displace the existing members of the other's organization, or from interference in the other's internal affairs.

• The two unions will create a new joint RN organization in Florida to represent current and future RNs of both unions. In all other states, SEIU will continue to represent their current RN members in collective bargaining.

NUHW: a defining moment

In my previous posts, United Healthcare Workers Holding our Ground and We are the Union. SEIU who are you? I shared my experience of the trusteeship SEIU International imposed on SEIU-UHW and the birth of our new union, NUHW. What I’d like to do today is share with you why this experience has been a defining moment for me and my sisters and brothers building NUHW…

Reaching out

Since I joined SEIU-UHW I’ve gone through a kind of consciousness raising, to borrow a term from the 1960’s.  I used to simply be concerned with my own benefits, my wages, my office space.  I wasn’t selfish, just short sighted.  I could only see what was in my world:  my smallish world.

I’m a Medical Social Worker which means that I help patients with their psychosocial needs in the hospital.  When my former local joined SEIU-UHW, I volunteered to take part in a two-week UHW campaign organizing other professionals at HCA hospitals in San Jose. Through that experience, I learned that my problems were really small compared to workers with no representation.  I was exposed to the struggles of homecare workers, and long-term care workers and learned how very fortunate I was as a Kaiser UHW member.

In joining SEIU-UHW and reaching out to organize my fellow healthcare workers, I had joined the larger world of healthcare workers, organized and unorganized, and I realized my problems and my efforts were on a continuum with other workers.  We had the same desires for fair wages, good working conditions, and most importantly, a voice in our workplaces.  I experienced the power of joining with my sisters and brothers in collective struggles:  I saw how much further I got in my own workplace when we stood with the workers in the larger bargaining unit in collective actions. With this larger worldview, I saw what we could accomplish together.  

I learned that unions were by definition workers bonded together for a common cause: endorsing a vision of collective struggle for collective gain.  As I got involved in political campaigns, in Iowa and New Mexico working to elect our new president, I was part of SEIU-UHW’s efforts to make change in one-to-one conversations, at the workplace, at the doors, and in Sacramento, in Washington, D.C.  

One of the reasons SEIU-UHW was so successful was that we knew we couldn’t just be about fighting bad bosses, we had to be working to build the union at every level: to define ourselves beyond what we were fighting against, to define what we were fighting for, what we stood for.

A new union

I hate speaking and writing about SEIU-UHW in the past tense.  But though it is no longer, our vision prevails in our work building NUHW. We still embody that vision and we are creating the new union.  That new union lives in the present and the future, but to fully create our new union, we each have to stand up for what matters most right now.  That means asking ourselves:  what’s worth preserving beyond a paycheck, beyond benefits?

I believe union democracy is worth standing for because I have seen the power of these values embodied in UHW: putting workers first, empowering us to stand up for ourselves in our workplaces, and to stand for issues that affect patient care in Sacramento, to stand for electing a Democratic president, for the Employee Free Choice Act.

I believe in union democracy because I was and am part of it.   Union democracy is a living, breathing organism.   In the former UHW, union democracy wasn’t just an ideal it was a driving principle.  I’m not suggesting SEIU-UHW was perfect, it was made of people and we’re never perfect.  But its leaders had 20/20 vision in terms of seeing what mattered most, and ensuring that our actions were consistent with those values.

I had an epiphany in line at the first trusteeship hearing in San Mateo, while waiting behind my sisters and brothers to say my 2 minute’s worth to Ray Marshall, to SEIU’s attorneys.  I was nervous, furious, so much was in my heart and so much was at stake.  My legs shook, and I felt sick.  Then it came to me.  I didn’t have to say everything.  It wasn’t about me, not me alone.  I would be preceded by my sisters and brothers and succeeded by my sisters and brothers.  Some of them were ranting and cursing, some of them were crying at the mic.  Mine would be one of the voices speaking in support of my union and all that it meant. All I had to be was a drop of water in this great river headed to the delta.  I could do that, and I could do it really well, I decided.   I could be a fine droplet.  And that would be plenty.  Because the river was so much bigger and more powerful than I could ever be alone.

-Homecare workers’ rally, Fresno, California, March 2009

A defining moment

I keep hearing the phrase “defining moment” to describe this period of time in the labor movement, and it’s a true description.   What impresses me every day is witnessing this moment defining us as people.  As a social worker, I’ve seen these moments come to families when their sister/brother, mother/father is dying, I see families laugh their loudest, scream and rant and act out, attack others or wail and lay hopeless.  I also experience people at their absolute kindest and most loving, their most vunerable and their strongest.  

Moments like this where our gains are all in question, when all that we have worked to create is being threatened, our relationships with bosses, our pensions, even our trust in one another, bring out the best and the worst in us.   Our stewards are being “fired” for refusing to let go of their allegiance to their sisters and their brothers, allegiance to their own beliefs. These moments have defining questions wrapped up into them:  What we are willing to commit ourselves to? What are we willing to risk?  What in us is unwavering?  What won’t we give up?  Where will we put our resources?  Yes our money, but also our time and our energy. These moments show us who we are.  

When I have doubt, or feel afraid, or am not sure that we’ll succeed, I look to my sisters and brothers, and I know who I am.  I’m one of the big wide body of  healthcare workers, the collective, and together, we are our most powerful, and our very best.

Amy Thigpen, Medical Social Worker, Kaiser Fremont


Here’s how you can help:

JOIN our mailing list (by going to the sidebar and signing up for updates). TELL your elected California representatives that you support California healthcare workers’ freedom of choice to form NUHW through fast, free and fair elections, without harassment and intimidation from their employers or from SEIU. (Enter your zip in box and hit enter.) VISIT our website and DONATE to support our movement. And, most importantly, if you have friends or family who are healthcare workers and would like to join our movement to build a vibrant, member-led National Union of Healthcare Workers, please SPREAD THE WORD.

NUHW: Let us Vote!

In the five weeks since SEIU International trusteed California’s SEIU-UHW West something enormous has transpired in our state: California’s healthcare workers have spoken.

What those workers have said is crystal clear: We choose NUHW.

A majority of the workers from 350 healthcare facilities…representing over 91,000 California healthcare workers…have petitioned to be represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) in just five weeks time. That includes an absolute majority of the 50,000 healthcare workers in the Kaiser network of hospitals and clinics. It also includes homecare workers in Fresno County who collected almost twice the number of the petition signatures necessary to trigger an election that will allow 10,000 homecare workers in Fresno county to secure representation by NUHW. That total also includes numerous workers at smaller facilities like those working at Orange County’s Western Medical Center in Anaheim and Coastal Communities Hospital in Santa Ana who gathered petitions from an absolute majority of the 500 healthcare workers at their two facilities.

A remarkable development: 91,000 Healthcare Workers, 350 Facilities, 5 weeks

All told, this dramatic development tells a powerful underlying story that goes beyond describing the initial organizing success of the newly-born National Union of Healthcare Workers, NUHW. This outcome would simply not have been possible outside of the context of thousands of California union members rising up to forge their own democratic response to SEIU’s trusteeship. Winning majority petitions from 91,000 workers at 350 facilties in five weeks is the kind of organizing victory that is possible only when members have built a powerful culture of member leadership and activism. Make no mistake, these thousands of petitions were signed one person at a time in workplaces all over our state. This success was won by member leaders reaching out to their fellow healthcare workers in an often hostile environment of intimidation and misinformation created by SEIU.

No one inside or outside the labor movement can doubt that workers who can organize and execute such a petition drive on short notice under such adverse conditions are not also fully empowered to negotiate effectively for their own contracts and for the best interests of their patients.

And that’s the point.

A Fundamental Difference of Opinion

California progressives need to understand that at the core of the disagreement between the healthcare workers choosing to join NUHW and Andy Stern’s SEIU International is a fundamental difference of opinion about exactly the kind of member-driven organizing that California’s healthcare workers have just powerfully demonstrated to the world. Andy Stern has a top-down approach to labor organizing. In fact, Andy’s top-down philosophy is part of why he felt he could trustee California’s UHW, one of the most progressive and successful locals in the nation, without consequence. Undoubtedly, when Stern trusteed UHW and stripped its staff and elected leaders, he did not anticipate this dramatic grassroots response. Stern’s choice to trustee SEIU-UHW West was premised on the idea that California’s healthcare workers would not choose to rise up, en masse, reject the removal of their elected leaders and advocate for an election to choose a new union.

Clearly, Stern miscalculated. Stern was not only in error in his appalling strategic choice to trustee SEIU-UHW, he was even more gravely mistaken in underestimating the organizing power and determination of California’s healthcare workers to choose to build their own democratic, member-led union.

The tens of thousands of California healthcare workers who have petitioned for elections to join NUHW in 350 facilities not only fundamentally disagree with Stern about what worker empowerment looks like and how that empowerment impacts bargaining outcomes and patient care. Those workers have clearly demonstrated in these last five weeks why top-down, undemocratic leaders are never a match for the power of grassroots democratic organizing.

Supporting California’s Healthcare Workers is Common Sense

California’s progressives, whether grassroots activists or elected officials and leaders, should pay heed. In the ongoing political battles we face in our state, the empowered organizing exhibited by the member leaders of NUHW is exactly the kind of activism we need. Whether it was opposing Prop 8 or rallying to fight Arnold Schwarzenegger, California’s healthcare workers are no strangers to movement politics and California progressives: they have been on the front lines of California progressive activism for years. In fact, for progressives advocating for a host of issues in our state, supporting California’s healthcare workers as they petition for elections to form their own, new, vibrant member-led union is common sense.

It may be that for some, the disagreement between California’s healthcare workers and Andy Stern presents an inconvenient conflict. That need not be the case. If Andy Stern truly supports the guiding principle of the Employee Free Choice Act…that workers should be free to choose…then he should let California’s healthcare workers…who’ve already chosen NUHW…vote to join NUHW and set aside his lawsuits, intimidation and threats. It may be inconvenient to some, but the truth is that whenever you read about Andy Stern and “free choice,” you should remember that the only thing standing in the way of elections for the representation of 91,000 healthcare workers in 350 facilities in our state is Andy Stern himself.

The single best thing anyone could do to build support for the Employee Free Choice Act is to demonstrate the hunger and commitment of real workers to exercise a free choice. The California healthcare workers choosing NUHW are doing just that.

Time and again, healthcare workers in California have put themselves on the line for progressive causes; in the last five weeks a proud and growing majority of them have chosen NUHW. Today those workers have one simple request to make of their fellow Californians and Andy Stern:

Let us vote!


Here’s how you can help:

JOIN our mailing list (by going to the sidebar and signing up for updates). TELL your elected California representatives that you support California healthcare workers’ freedom of choice to form NUHW through fast, free and fair elections, without harassment and intimidation from their employers or from SEIU. (Enter your zip in box and hit enter.) VISIT our website and DONATE to support our movement. And, most importantly, if you have friends or family who are healthcare workers and would like to join our movement to build a vibrant, member-led National Union of Healthcare Workers, please SPREAD THE WORD.

{Paul Delehanty is a volunteer with the National Union of Healthcare Workers.}

Standing Up For Hilda Solis

I work for the Courage Campaign

The stimulus plan isn’t the only thing Republicans are obstructing. Hilda Solis, still the representative from CA-32, was nominated as Secretary of Labor by President Obama on December 19. It’s been nearly two months and her nomination still hasn’t moved out of the Senate HELP committee.

Republicans, led by Mike Enzi of Wyoming, are trying to stop Hilda Solis because of her support of workers’ rights, including – but not limited to – the Employee Free Choice Act. They even want her to promise to not lobby on behalf of Employee Free Choice as a condition of confirmation – which she has so far refused to do.

A hearing was finally to have been held in committee on her nomination last week but news of a tax problem her husband had – which has since been resolved – caused yet another delay, and conservatives are hoping to use the delays to kill one of Obama’s most progressive nominees entirely.

It’s time for Californians to stand up for Hilda Solis.

She’s been there for us in the past. Last summer when Arnold Schwarzenegger planned to slash the wages of over 200,000 state workers to the minimum wage, Solis joined our successful grassroots effort to block that move. Now that she is poised to bring significant progressive change to an important part of the federal government, it’s vital that California progressives show that we have her back.

The Courage Campaign is asking its members to show their support for Hilda Solis by asking them to sign a letter to Senator Ted Kennedy, chair of the Senate HELP committee, encouraging him to lead the fight against conservative resistance and for Hilda Solis’s confirmation.

In doing so we join our allies at SEIU and MoveOn.org who have also pushed out their own kinds of support Solis actions in recent days. There’s also a Facebook group to join as well.

Why a letter to Senator Kennedy? We’re not at all worried that he isn’t supportive of the nomination or that he’s unwilling to move quickly to get it done. What we want to do instead is demonstrate to key Senators just how wide and deep public support for Hilda Solis truly is. To reinforce the case for her confirmation, and to help Kennedy and other Democrats beat back the conservative attack on a true progressive hero.

So sign the letter here and show your support for Hilda Solis!

Over the flip is the email we sent to our members and the letter we’re asking folks to sign:

Dear Robert,

Hilda Solis has consistently stood up for Californians. And now, as she faces a tough confirmation battle to become Secretary of Labor, it’s time for progressives to take a stand for her.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger threatened to cut the salaries of state employees to the minimum wage, Hilda Solis stood with tens of thousands of Courage Campaign members who successfully forced the Governor to back down.

All her life, Solis has stood up for the values we all share — democracy, justice, and prosperity. As one of Barack Obama’s most progressive Cabinet picks she is poised to bring much-needed change to not only the Department of Labor, but to American politics as a whole.

But now, Hilda Solis needs our help. Senate Republicans, led by Mike Enzi of Wyoming, have declared all-out war on our progressive hero. They are determined to kill her nomination so they can stop the momentum of President Obama and the labor movement.

We cannot let them succeed. It’s time for progressives to rally together to stop the right-wing campaign to deny her appointment. Please sign our letter to Senator Ted Kennedy, chair of the Senate Labor Committee, asking him to lead the confirmation of Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor:


Conservatives want to destroy her nomination because they do not like President Obama’s policies, the ones Hilda Solis holds so dear. The same policies and values that are Senator Kennedy’s legacy.

If Solis is not confirmed then conservatives will be emboldened to attack other progressives and their causes.

We must draw the line here.

Please join us in asking Senator Kennedy once again to lead progressives and fight for Hilda Solis. Sign our letter to Senator Kennedy and join him in standing up to the right-wing campaign to deny Americans the change they voted for in November:


Thank you for standing up and supporting one of California’s progressive heroes.

Rick Jacobs


And the letter to Senator Kennedy:

   Senator Ted Kennedy,

   As one of the greatest champions for progress in America, we once again need your leadership as the right-wing seeks to make an example of another champion, Labor Secretary-designate Hilda Solis.

   They want to destroy her chances of confirmation as President Obama’s Secretary of Labor because they do not like his policies. These are policies Hilda Solis shares — democracy, justice, prosperity. They are the same policies that you have spent your life promoting.

   Congresswoman Solis has always stood for the people and for progress. Her efforts on behalf of the rights of women, the working class, the poor, and of environmental justice show that Congresswoman Solis is a leader America needs in these tough times. She will bring these values to the Department of Labor, where after eight years of George W. Bush’s misrule, those values are desperately needed.

   We know Hilda Solis because we are her neighbors and friends and constituents here in California. By nominating Hilda Solis, President Obama chose a person dedicated to crafting bipartisan solutions to rebuild our middle class and ensure workers’ rights are protected. Hers is the kind of smart, innovative leadership we need as we face the highest jobless rate in more than 16 years and record job losses of 3.6 million since the start of the recession in December 2007.

   The Republicans who are stalling Solis’ confirmation are the very same group who spent the last eight years putting the needs of big corporations over the needs of working Americans. It’s an insult to every Californian for the Republicans to hold up, postpone or otherwise delay her confirmation. We urge the Senate to quickly confirm Secretary-designate Solis so she can use her expertise to help us through these tough economic times.

   Senator Kennedy, please lead the confirmation of Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor.

Workers Explain Why We Need Employee Free Choice

At Wednesday’s rally in support of the Employee Free Choice Act, a number of brave workers who have been hurt by our broken labor law system spoke out to explain why we badly need this vital new law to protect the freedom of workers to form a union and bargain.

These workers are just a few of the nearly 30,000 workers who are harassed, discriminated against and fired every year for trying to exercise the freedom to bargain for health care, pensions and fair wages and treatment. Their stories illustrate, on an honest and personal level, the real problem with the nation’s current labor laws: People who want to form unions are at the mercy of corporations because the laws are badly tilted toward companies, not workers.

A long-time journalist and mother of a young child, Sara Steffens met with her co-workers to try and form a union at the newspaper where they worked in Contra Costa County, Calif. Workers hoped that with a union they could have job security and more of a say in how the newspaper operates. Despite gathering the support of two-thirds of the paper’s employees, they were met with a hostile response.

Our employer reacted the way a lot of companies do. They hired an anti-union consultant and began a pretty aggressive campaign to scare us into voting against the union. Despite all of that, we did win our election…A few weeks later, they announced a major layoff, and I was one…I had been the co-chair of our organizing committee.

I think it’s important that workers feel like they can step up and tackle problems in their workplace, and not have to be afraid that if they speak out they’re going to lose their jobs for it.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Asela Espiritu, a nurse who works for Kaiser Permanente in Orange County, Calif., discussed how Kaiser Permanente stayed neutral and allowed nurses at Espiritu’s facility to pursue a union through the legal majority sign-up process. Thanks to her and her co-workers’ successful efforts, the people who have the most direct experience in patient care have a voice when it comes to how the company operates. That’s good for nurses, for patients and for the company.

With us being unionized, we’re on the same page with management on how we can deliver the best care for our patients. The Employee Free Choice Act will empower workers of all kinds of industries….They will be able to be part of the solution to the crisis we have.

The high-dollar corporate attacks on the Employee Free Choice Act rely on the fiction that unions are sinister outside forces, separate from and unwanted by workers. That myth is leveled by the stories of real people like Steffens, Gares, Lawhorn and Espiritu, who are honest, hardworking people who just wanted the freedom to have a say in their workplace and the ability to bargain for a better life for themselves and their co-workers.

It’s stories like these that illustrate why the Employee Free Choice Act is so urgent and necessary to restore the balance for workers.

(Cross-posted from the AFL-CIO Now Blog.)