Tag Archives: UHW

1000 Hospital Workers Stick With SEIU-UHW

Barely one week after a federal jury unanimously found NUHW, Rosselli, Lewis, and the other defendants liable to UHW for over $1.5 million, following a two week trial that exposed their corruption and deceit, NUHW is dealt another devastating blow. By withdrawing from the NLRB election at St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood, California, NUHW only sped up by a few days what would have been the inevitable result – another win for workers represented by SEIU-UHW!

No matter how hard Rosselli’s propaganda machine tries to hide it, each day that passes by reveals that NUHW is losing steam, and after 15 months of having gained NOTHING for even a single healthcare worker in California, these “union reformers'” sole achievement has been discrediting their short lived experiment and “leaving their honor behind.”

The hardworking members at St. Francis have reclaimed their hospital and can now return to doing what they do best, taking care of the sick. We, your brothers and sisters in the Daughters of Charity network of hospitals, working in the other facilities congratulate you! We too look forward to reclaiming our facilities, returning to normal, and finally being liberated from the unnecessary distractions that have tried to hurt us this past year. See you at the same bargaining table in 2012!


SEIU-UHW vs NUHW Closing Arguments: For SEIU, It’s Still About Rules Being Broken

For SEIU, It’s Still About Rules Being Broken:

When the trial started two weeks ago, it was clearly stated what this was all about. It was about rules, the dangers of thinking you can be above them, and the consequences for then refusing to follow them. In his opening arguments, Gary Kholman, attorney for the 150,000 members that were abandoned by Rosselli and his co-defendants, told the jury that he will lay out evidence that showed how the defendants, in reaction to “constitutional mandates” placed upon them by the international, began to plot and put into motion a set of premeditated actions in response. The sole purpose of these actions by the defendants was to pilfer the union’s treasury, hijack the local’s valuable information network, and ultimately steal members away and put them into a new organization with shady beginnings. In the two weeks that followed those opening statements by Mr. Kholman, witness after witness after witness came forward to testify. They told how they were recruited to either lie to and cheat members out of due representation, or how they were intimidated into cooperation. Mountains of documents, many from the defendants’ own hands, were put into evidence. We read secret e-mails, task lists, minutes and notes of meetings, correspondence, and watched videos that showed the evolution of this “great plan” of these 26 OUTSIDERS that sought to destroy our union of over eighty years.

In his closing arguments today, Kholman again reminded the jury what this has always been about rules and consequences. These defendants always had three honorable options before them;

–         Accept the rules and abide by them

–         Work within the system to change the rules

–         Leave the organization

Instead, they chose a fourth, dishonorable option, to defy the rules and breach the rules that govern our union. The means they used to reach that end were equally dishonorable! Taking members’ dues monies off the books into a secret slush fund, pirating our confidential information into a shadow database, and creating secret groups that held clandestine meetings. Appalling as that is, the worst offense they made against us was to lie to us and then recruit us as pawns in their sinister scheme.

In society, and the organizations within them, rules are what bind us together and keep  us from falling into chaos. Regardless how one felt about the 2000 Bush v Gore election drama, it was because rules were in place that an “orderly transition” occurred from one president to the next. Hard as it may have been for Gore to accept the result, can you imagine what shambles our democracy would be put into if he had decided to not accept or abide by it and instead conspired to have the “blue states” secede? That’s what Rosselli and the others are trying to do.

For NUHW, It’s Still About Distraction and Distortion:

Two weeks ago Dan Siegel, attorney for Rosselli and his co-defendants, chose to talk about what this trial was NOT about. He wanted to talk about Andy Stern, his salary and a book he wrote. He wanted to preach about democracy and tyranny. He told us how his clients’ actions were “motivated by patient care.” These attempts to distract the jury only got him stiff admonishments from the judge who then instructed him to follow the rules. Throughout the trial, he offered no evidence to refute our claims against his clients…only spin. He put forth witnesses that proudly verified claims of violent actions, then insinuated the victims were to blame. On the stand, his clients broke down, and Rosselli himself became as nervous as a “sinner in church!”

In his closing arguments today, Siegel offered nothing new…only spin. He spoke about gazing at the stars and pondered the horoscope signs they formed. He dipped his feet into various conspiracy theories like the government’s involvement in 9-11 and the CIA’s role in the Kennedy assassination. From this, he gathered that SEIU our union of over eighty years, is like Iran. He defended his clients’ obstructive actions as mere “expression,” saying they cannot be held accountable for them, but then referred to them as “terrible conspirators.”  Mr. Siegel obviously has never stepped foot in any of our facilities, this much was evident when he had the nerve to ask “Did anything horrible really happen?”  The answer to that Mr. Siegel, YES!!! Ask any of the 150,000 members your clients left behind.

SEIU-UHW vs. NUHW day 11: A milestone reached

With both sides resting their cases, a milestone has been reached in the federal lawsuit against ousted SEIU-UHW President Sal Rosselli and his 25 co-defendants. The case is being tried in federal court in San Francisco before U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup.

Ms. “Ungovernable Situation” Takes The Stand:

Barbara Lewis, author of the now infamous “Ungovernable Situation” memo, which plotted out leaving our union in chaos after they were ousted from power, took the stand. From her we learned how she spent $41, 871 at Kinko’s to print decertification petitions. When asked if she put her staff on “Code Orange,” she replied that she could not recall. However, a January 22, 2009 memo was shown where she instructed trusted staff to:

–     Always be accessible by phone

–     Not to plan for any sleep – OUCH!

–     Be on 24 hour standby

And yes, she did say “Code Orange.” She was asked if as high ranking officer of UHW how she felt about trusteeship being imposed to which she said very saddened by the whole situation. Mr. Kohlman then showed a video clip where she called it “A great day for our union.” Ooops.

“Define Forming”

NUHW co-founder John Borsos was one of the final witnesses in the case. Despite his lack of recollect, the jury was shown a memo where lawyers advised him to “lay low” about active resistance to the international. He was told to “launder” it through an intermediary. At one point Mr. Kohlman asked him if one still works for one union and uses the resources of that union to start forming a new union, would he consider that stealing. His answer “depends on how you define forming.” He then insisted that despite the similarities between this case and the Colcord case of 2005, it’s a different situation. Different, apparently, because he’s the one on the hot seat.

(Colcord case: In 2005 three organizers while still employed by UHW used union resources such as the member database among other stuff to form a new union to organize EMT workers at AMR. Rosselli and UHW sued the three and won a judgment against them. In this trial, UHW makes the same claim, that Rosselli and the other defendants used UHW resources to form NUHW while they were still the top officers/employees of UHW.)

Tomorrow we will hear the closing arguments and the judge will give the jury instructions they will use for their deliberations.

Day 9 of the NUHW trial: Sal in the Hot Seat

Attorneys representing the 150,000 California healthcare workers represented by SEIU-UHW against Sal Rosselli and NUHW did such a great job laying a solid foundation for our case that it has the lawyers for Rosselli and the 27 other alleged conspirators scrambling for cover. It seems like the only highlight of the day for them is 12:59 pm, when the trial ends for the day. Earlier this week, I overheard a conversation in the hallway where one of their staffers mentioned how the plaintiff’s allotted time was running short, while Rosselli, Borsos and others had over three hundred more minutes than us (each side was given 18 hours to put on their case). As of today however, only ninety minutes separate the two sides, and they still have over twenty more defendants to take the stand in their defense. Add to that, an array of “character witnesses” made up of politicians whose campaigns have at one time or another benefited from Sal and company. 😉

Sal In The Hot Seat

If Rosselli took comfort in his lawyer’s soft and cozy direct examination, Mr. Kohlman gave him a rude awakening. With the very first question he began to grill the witness.

Yesterday, when asked why contract extensions at several nursing homes were canceled just days before the trusteeship, he replied that he had no knowledge that defendant Vellardita did that. He went on to acknowledge that the trustee had the legal authority to access the union’s offices and assets in order to service the members. He also acknowledged the duties and responsibilities he had to uphold the constitutions of UHW and SEIU. Among those duties were not just to comply with the decision of the International Executive Board, but to also ensure an orderly transition of authority to the trustees. He failed in both these instances. From the stand he admitted that while he was aware of the mob attacks on the offices in Alameda and LA, and that they were led by members of his senior staff, he did nothing. He also admitted that he was aware that members and staff were squatting overnight at UHW offices throughout the state and that they had chained and padlocked the doors shut (fire hazard), but he did nothing. And that he knew those inside were given the deed to the offices and expenses for these “sleepovers” were paid by our dues monies, he still did nothing. Nothing was more disturbing to hear than when he was asked if it was inappropriate for union officers or employees to keep our personal information in databases outside of our union, and he said “…hmm, I’m not sure about that.”

Go Gary Go!

Once again today , Kohlman delivered. Yesterday Rosselli testified that he knew what was going on, and today he couldn’t seem to recall much – he can’t remember meetings, memos, lists, phone calls, people, places or things. He wasn’t sure if he got a memo from Laura Kurrie instructing senior staff on talking points for the bogus outside fund they put $3 million of our money into (the PEF) in case the International asked. He wasn’t sure what John Borsos would tell a crowd of hand-picked members in a January 24, 2009 mega meeting. Heck, he couldn’t recall how the members at those meetings were selected to attend (they were assessed as loyal to him and most receptive to his message.) He can’t recall who ordered the UHW data base to be scrambled. He can’t recall what happened at a December 6, 2009 meeting he attended where work plans for creating a new union were being worked out. He can’t recall if his special assistant Dan Martin set up an office in his home with a computer system that could access the UHW mainframe without the IT department even knowing.

He can’t recall receiving an e-mail with an attachment that had a membership list of over 20,000 Kaiser workers, but remembers not opening it. He can’t recall if he read a letter to SEIU President Andy Stern trying to reach out and resolve differences. Clearly, this witness was very uncomfortable today; he fidgeted in his chair and coughed after every question as if trying to buy time to find some answer.

“Stay The F*** Out!”

When he first approached the stand, former union rep from the hospital division, Andy Reid, looked like a boy scout from a time long gone by. He spoke of the ideals and passion that brought him to UHW, collaborative efforts, and how the union is bigger than any one person. But that didn’t last long. When confronted with a memo he received from Barbara Lewis telling him to instruct stewards to tell new incoming staff to “Get the F*** out!” his demons just had to come out. In a loud voice for the judge, jury and all to hear, he blurted out “They should get the F*** out of my hospital!!!” He then explained how he recruited followers to sleep at the San Jose office to resist the trusteeship.

NUHW Witness Verifies Key SEIU Testimony

She must have thought she was being slick or just plain cute, but Beverly Griffith only ended up corroborating a key element of the SEIU case. The former steward from Alta Bates in Oakland and as of today, an NUHW staff member, testified how she “led” the mob of 50-60 rioters that attacked the Alameda SEIU office on January 20, 2009. When they were greeted at the door by the security guard, she told them “We’re coming in!” Then she and the others started to push their way in. She acknowledged the guard being shoved to the ground as the mob made its way in, “I just jumped over him” Griffith told the jury. She then began to “have conversations” with the workers, ordering them to “Go back to Washington D.C. (even though most were not from D.C.), you opened a Pandora’s box and it will not close!” As Rasheda Anthony told last week how defendant Goldstein tried to snatch confidential documents out of her hand, and defendant Krystal shoved her into a desk, Griffith, testified that they were present at the altercation. She also told the jury how this was not the first time she was violent at union activities.

SEIU: “Is this a 24-hour operation?”

Sometimes in the midst of a broader organizing effort there’s a moment that clarifies exactly what you’re fighting for. NUHW activist and union member Eloise Reese-Burns has just such a moment to share with us tonight.

Eloise Reese-Burns has worked as a certified nursing assistant at Cottonwood Healthcare in Woodland California for 39 years. This month, along with 350 of her co-workers, she become one of the first official members of NUHW, a member-led union of healthcare workers formed just this year.

Building NUHW will not be easy. But Eloise Reese-Burns explains why it is necessary…

“My name is Eloise Reese-Burns and I’ve worked as a certified nursing assistant at Cottonwood Healthcare in Woodland, California for over 39 years. I’ve been involved in caring for patients and building my union for most of my life.Eloise Reese-Burns

Today I can say that I and 350 other workers at four nursing homes have joined together to become the first members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). We are proud to be the first members of our own union. After nursing home workers and homecare workers struggled for so long to stop SEIU from dividing us, we are even prouder that long-term care workers are the ones who broke this door open for thousands of others to follow.

If you have a minute, I’d like to tell you a story that may give you some perspective on why we at Cottonwood Healthcare decided to join NUHW.

After SEIU trusteed our old union, SEIU-UHW, and removed its elected leaders against the wishes of our members, SEIU sent a representative to Cottonwood to meet with workers and try to get us “on board.”

When this young gentleman talked with the administrator here, he asked a question that surprised me. He asked the administrator, “Is this a 24-hour operation?

I guess he thought our residents check out every night.

It’s a shame that SEIU chose to use our own dues money on “representatives” who don’t represent healthcare workers at all, and who need to ask if a nursing home is a 24-hour operation. But, truly, that comes as no surprise to those of us who are working together to build NUHW. More than 90,000 workers all over California have voted to join NUHW because of just that kind of experience with SEIU.

SEIU is out of touch. That’s what happens when you meet with corporations more than you listen to union members.

NUHW is a member-led union where workers are involved at every level, and it shows in our leadership and our activism. In fact, just after joining NUHW, Cottonwood nursing home workers went to the State Capitol in Sacramento to support the Employee Free Choice Act. We stand in solidarity with all workers seeking to join a union of their choice.

We at Cottonwood may be the first to join NUHW, but we will not be the last. Thank you for reading my story.”

Eloise Reese-Burns

Eloise are her fellow caregivers are not alone. More than 92,000 California healthcare workers have petitioned to leave SEIU and join the member-led NUHW.

Among them are 1,500 members of SEIU local 1021 at Alameda County Medical Center who have rejected SEIU’s effort to railroad them into an incomplete contract just to lock them into a union where they don’t have a voice. And 500 homecare workers at San Francisco’s IHSS Consortium petitioned on Monday with the NLRB to leave SEIU-UHW and join NUHW, a union that will respect their democratic rights and fight to get them the contract and benefits they deserve.

Activists like Eloise Reese-Burns and the workers at Alameda County Medical Center are choosing NUHW because they want a union that will listen to their voices and include them in every aspect of the life of their union, from bargaining, to organizing, to running political campaigns. NUHW is the union that knows these workers, their facilities and their contracts.

Caring for patients in a nursing home is a 24-hour operation. Everyone who knows healthcare knows that. Eloise Reese-Burns and her co-workers deserve a union that will fight for them 24/7.

That’s why they chose NUHW.


Here’s how you can help: support NUHW

JOIN our mailing list (by going to the sidebar and signing up for updates). TELL your elected 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 an employee of the National Union of Healthcare Workers.}

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.

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.

We are the Union. SEIU who are you?

“We are the union, the mighty mighty union!”

I hear the chants in my head.  When I need them, they come to me.

This line is especially true right now for the former members of United Healthcare Workers-West.   We are the union.  A week and a half ago, many of my sisters and brothers and I slept in our union hall, before the hostile takeover by our International, SEIU.  As we held our hall, my sisters and I worked to maintain our union.  We fended off anyone SEIU sent to weasel their way in without warrants.  We planned how we’d move forward during an imminent occupation:  how we’d communicate with each other; how we would reach deep into our membership to take our union back.  

It occurred to me that night hunched over the bare desks in the communication department office, the union solidarity posters hanging behind me, that though we had been member leaders up to that point, stewards and activists for union democracy, something had changed.  This was a sort of matriculation, graduation day.  

This was not the sort of matriculation I wanted, but in this moment of crisis, while SEIU was preparing to take our hall, after they’d put us into trusteeship for refusing to go along with their undemocratic processes, in this moment when our staff, some of the smartest, most committed, best people I know, were told by SEIU to leave the Hall and were preparing for their “interviews”  (interrogations), our elected officers had been fired for being too strong and too empowered, too unified.  In this dark and outrageous moment in the life of our union and the history of the labor movement, I sensed a quiet determination, a victory.

When I became an active member-leader in the Kaiser Medical Social Work chapter, I learned the skills of organizing and noticed that they were the same as those of social work.  The focus is not on giving answers but empowering people to ask the right questions.  The central tenets of both social work and organizing involve listening and beginning where the person is:  giving them the tools:  knowledge of the contract, worker’s rights, the Kaiser labor management partnership, and engendering confidence in the real source of power:  their sisters and brothers.

I have, in the social worker style of tiresome self-analysis, become my own case study for this transformation from un-empowered, un-unified, social worker to empowered leader.  I watched myself in the last year and a half, learn the skills of organizing, begin to use them in small ways, from shadowing my mentor to leading negotiations in one short year, from being anxious about speaking to small groups of workers to speaking comfortably to groups of 300.   There were many small steps along the way, but what amazed me most was the rare combination of talented and dedicated UHW staff and elected members whose vision and integrity permeated all levels of the Union and the impact that this environment had on me and my sisters and brothers.

Any good social worker knows that the main goal of our interventions is to render ourselves redundant:  to help people learn to help themselves so well that we are no longer needed.  A good organizer’s goal is the same:  to empower workers and worksite leaders so that they no longer need the organizer/representative to solve their problems.  

I drank another cup of stale coffee and planned with my sister in the union hall until the middle of the night during the hostile takeover of one of SEIU’s strongest and most effective locals, my local.   As our elected leaders and staff leaders were being fired, we stepped into their places.  Since we could no longer talk to our staff leaders in exile, we turned to each other.  We called up the words of leaders who have said:  “in every interaction we should be thinking ‘how does this build the union?'”  SEIU would do well to consider that question, rather than the question of how to disassemble my union.  

We are moving to decertify from SEIU, to form our own Union, to maintain our current union.  When we leave our autocratic International for the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), it’ll be a historic day for the labor movement.  But that moment will be only one of the significant moments that happen everyday within the former UHW.  One of them was in that Union Hall that night, when we turned to each other, embodying all that UHW stood for.  

In this dark moment when SEIU appears to have taken what we have built, we know that they can take the hall, but they can’t take us.  We are the union. We will be the union.  We’ll be the most democratic, strongest union because of this moment and all of the moments still to come.   We are the union, the mighty mighty union.  SEIU, who are you?  Whoever you claim to be or to represent, you have not built the union.  You have tried to dismember it.   We are building the union right now.  You’ve lost already, and we’ve already won.  

Former Members of SEIU-UHW form Union of Healthcare Workers

I’m currently on a conference call with the former leaders of SEIU-UHW where they are announcing the formation of the National Union of Healthcare Workers. They’ll be working to decertify UHW at many of the facilities. This will be a long fight as the negotiations come up throughout the next coming years.

This is all in response to SEIU International’s trusteeship of the UHW local. As I understand it, the International has placed calls to employers notifying them that UHW employees no longer represented the employees.

The SEIU International has a conference call of its own coming up shortly.

United Healthcare Workers Holding Our Ground

{Amy Thigpen and members of UHW are sleeping in their union halls across California tonight due the threat of imminent seizure of those buildings by SEIU International, which instituted a takeover of UHW West today.}

Last night I slept on the kind of carpet you don’t really want to examine too closely.  It’s splotched with decades of coffee stains and salsa and too many conversations still seem to hang in the stale air, but there I was, curled up on my air mattresses in the union hall in downtown Oakland, the home of United Healthcare Workers West, my union.   On my right my sister the Medical Assistant slept peacefully, on my left my sister the Call Center Representative, across my sister the Ultrasound Technician, and my sister the Optical Technician.  All of them healthcare workers, member leaders and officers in our union.  I realized that I loved this stale, stained room, with carpets held together by duct tape, I love the room because it holds the waking dreams of my sister and brothers in UHW-W.  The place may be held together by duct tape but we as a union are held together by something stronger.

Whenever my union brothers or sisters ask me to do something, anything — lead a chant, bargain over working conditions, join them on the picket line — I say yes.  Why?  Because everything I’ve been part of as a steward and Medical Social Worker with UHW for the last two years has been about furthering a cause that is just and right and about empowering workers.  And not just any workers, workers who provide in-home care for elders: bathing them, cleaning their homes, feeding them, people who do the work that matters most, even though it’s often valued least.

Karen Bee, Licensed Vocational Nurse

Convalescent workers and homecare workers get paid far less than their colleagues in the hospitals.  But as members of UHW, Hospital workers and Long Term Care workers are joined together in one statewide healthcare union. We’ve raised standards for all, including some of the best wages and benefit packages under the Mariner contracts settled late last year.   And when I say we’ve raised the standards, I mean we. We bargain our own contracts, we elect our leaders from stewards to our executive board of rank and file members.  So why are we sleeping in the union hall?

Ruby Guzman, Certified Nurse Assistant

Despite all of the member-led success of UHW, our International Union — SEIU — placed us in trusteeship today.  It’s a long story, and a very well publicized one, but it’s really not a new story.  It’s an old one, about leaders, in this case, Andy Stern, president of the International Union, forgetting who they represent. It’s a story about a few people, our International Executive Board, who care more about concentrating power than the reality of the workers they are supposed to represent.

So we’re sleeping in the UHW hall and we’re unified in our worksites, only unfortunately instead of concentrating our efforts on fighting for better wages or working conditions or patient care, we have to fight our own International Union.  At a time when our country has pulled together in an historic way, putting the needs of the collective above the few and the privileged, it’s a terrible irony that Andy Stern would choose to attack and destroy, instead of building on this momentum.  Luckily, though Stern and his trustees may have forgotten about workers, people like my sisters and brothers have not, and we will not.

Amy Thigpen, Medical Social Worker

Tonight I’m going to sleep on the stained carpet again surrounded by my sisters and brothers.  If Stern and his trustees disturb us, try to bust into the Hall, cut off the power, the water, we’ll resist.  We’ll hold this duct taped hall as long as we can, and if we have to yield our hall, we’ll take our fight to the facilities, to the courts.  We will hold our union and build our union.  How am I so sure?  Because I believe in the power of each of us bound to the next by common values and a common goal: to improve the lives of healthcare workers and patients, a goal we’re all ready to lose sleep over, to fight for and to win.