Tag Archives: Andy Stern

Two Weeks in January: the Birth of a Healthcare Workers’ Union

{This blog post originally appeared on the Huffington Post}

January 2009 was a watershed moment in our nation’s history. As we gathered to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama, members of my union felt a powerful sense of accomplishment. Together we had worked long hours and covered many miles to elect a president who would represent working people instead of big corporations.

But those days were also bittersweet for me and thousands of health care workers in California. As President Obama took the oath of office, SEIU’s President Andy Stern had begun a process to remove me and other health care workers from our elected positions, suspend our local union’s constitution, and put his own officials in charge.

Why did Andy Stern take over our union?

Shirley Nelson, Kaiser Redwood City

Our disagreement with SEIU was about democracy, and how friendly a union should be with corporations. We insisted that workers should always have the right to vote on the issues that affect our workplaces, our union, and our future. Stern’s view was that union officials had the final say, and that it was fine to make backroom deals with employers without workers knowing or being involved in the decisions. In January 2009, when Stern moved to split our union in half and weaken our voice with our employers, tens of thousands of us spoke out and said that we would not allow SEIU to divide healthcare workers without a vote of the members.

Despite the fact that our union was a thriving, democratic local, and a model for the rest of the labor movement, Andy Stern and SEIU took it over simply because we disagreed with him.

When SEIU put our union into trusteeship, Andy Stern removed every elected official of our union from office. In response, we formed a new, independent union, and tens of thousands of our co-workers petitioned to join. However, what followed came as no surprise. SEIU filed charges to block our elections and sued our union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, and 28 officers and staff, for $25 million.

Andy Stern’s legacy

There are so many pieces of our story and struggle to reform SEIU that I wish that I could share with you. Videos of more than 6,000 of us marching for democracy. Our local president Sal Rosselli’s passionate speech calling for democratic reforms at SEIU’s 2008 convention. Petitions signed by 80,000 healthcare workers asking Stern to stop his attacks on us. Or the web site we created to share our proposals with other local unions in SEIU.

But in the days after taking over our union, SEIU staff removed our videos from YouTube and erased our website, just like they removed 85 health care workers and elected leaders of our union with the stroke of a pen.

While our country was celebrating our nation’s democratic process, Andy Stern had turned SEIU into a one-party system where health care workers’ voices are silenced and our attempt to reform SEIU erased from the history books. That is Andy Stern’s true legacy and how he will be remembered by workers who know best.

Our response to SEIU’s $25 million lawsuit

Silencing health care workers’ voices is exactly what SEIU has tried to do with their $25 million civil lawsuit against our new union, NUHW.

SEIU’s lawsuit was an attempt to get us to close the doors of our democratic union just as we got started. But despite a jury’s decision to award SEIU a fraction of the damages they sought last week, I can tell you today that NUHW is strong and growing.

SEIU’s lawyers and PR team have tried to smear NUHW. They’ve even called us “guilty” despite the fact that this was a civil lawsuit not a criminal trial. The truth is that their lies fell away in court. None of the outrageous charges SEIU leveled against us were even decided on by the jury. It is significant that the limited damages assessed to our union came down to our decision during those two weeks in January to resist SEIU’s attempt to silence us and take over our union.

We are proud of our decision to disagree with Andy Stern and oppose his efforts to take over our union, and we are proud that our elected leaders had the courage to do what was right, even at great personal cost. Our elected executive board, on which I served, voted not just to authorize our leaders to resist Andy Stern’s attempt to weaken our voice — we demanded that they do so. If we had it to do all over again, we would make the same choice.

Moving forward with NUHW

Andy Stern thought January 2009 would be the end of our struggle. Instead, it was the birth of our new union.

SEIU may have tried to erase all traces of our disagreement, but Andy Stern couldn’t erase the new union we are building together. Thousands of us have already voted to join NUHW, and tens of thousands more will join by the end of the year.

As President Obama said, “Nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.” In response to SEIU’s attempt to silence us, healthcare workers are making history in California

Shirley Nelson, CNA, Kaiser Redwood City

{Shirley Nelson, Certified Nursing Assistant, has been a caregiver at Kaiser Redwood City Hospital for 42 years.  Elected by her co-workers, she served on the Executive Board of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West until she, and 85 other rank and file members of the board who served with her, were removed by SEIU International in January of 2009. She currently serves on the Executive Board of a new, member-led union in California, the National Union of Healthcare Workers.}


{NUHW, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, is a vibrant and democratic movement of healthcare workers, dedicated to dignity, justice, and healthcare for all. NUHW Voice features blog posts by workers from NUHW’s Our Voices page. You can follow NUHW on Facebook and Twitter.}

The power of a member-led union

This blog post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

My name is LaNeta Fitzhugh and I work as a Registered Nurse (RN), at  Kaiser Sunset Los Angeles Medical Center. Kaiser Sunset is one of the  largest hospitals in the nation. We serve hundreds of patients every day  on seven floors, and RNs are involved in every aspect of the care of  our patients. The voice of RNs at Kaiser Sunset is central to the proper  function of our hospital.

This January, RNs at Kaiser Sunset voted 20 to 1 to leave SEIU and to express our voice with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

When people ask why my co-workers and I voted to join our union, our  answer is simple.

Our union, NUHW, is a member-led union

LaNeta Fitzhugh, RN, Kaiser Sunset/LAMCWe elect our leaders. We  participate in every aspect of bargaining our contracts. When there are  important decisions that affect our workplace, we know that we will have  a vote. In sum, we determine our relationship with our employer.

Having a member-led union at our workplace is important not just for  me and my co-workers, but also for the care of our patients. As RNs, our  main goal is to deliver quality patient care. Our top concern at Kaiser  Sunset as RNs has centered on staffing and how a shortage of RNs and  the Monitor Techs who work with us impacted our patients.

Our experience with SEIU

Under SEIU and its president, Andy Stern, we had made absolutely no progress on the staffing issue. This was typical. With SEIU, our  concerns about our workplace often went unaddressed. Our experience with SEIU was that more and more it was a union dedicated to the employer-friendly agendas of union officials in Washington D.C. and not the concerns of health care workers and our patients.

Our experience with our pension plan was typical. In 2009, under Andy  Stern’s leadership, SEIU agreed, without a vote of the members, to  allow Kaiser to reduce the size of the lump-sum pension option. Since the lump sum pension option was preferred by the majority of our  members, this giveaway had the effect of forcing some RNs at Kaiser Sunset to retire before the deadline to take advantage of the full  payout. These RNs were not replaced, increasing our staff shortage. This  directly impacted patient care.

With SEIU, instead of addressing our most immediate concerns, we went backwards without a vote. All that changed when we joined NUHW.

Our victory with NUHW

As soon as our election was certified, we elected a team of leaders to express our voice with Kaiser management. We made clear in a series  of meetings our concerns about staffing. I’m proud to report that together in NUHW, in just two months, we’ve won an agreement from Kaiser to post 122 new RN positions, seven Certified Nursing Assistant  positions, and 42 Monitor Tech positions at our hospital vastly  increasing both our nursing staff and the caregivers who support us. The public should know that every patient who is treated at Kaiser Sunset will benefit from better care as a result of our victory.

Our staffing victory will resonate beyond my fellow RNs. Almost one third of the positions will be among workers who are not in our  bargaining unit at the hospital. Soon, those co-workers will have a chance to vote to join NUHW, too.

A message to healthcare workers

I would like to close by sending a message to my fellow healthcare workers who have petitioned by the tens of thousands to leave SEIU and join NUHW. Get the facts. Don’t let fear and scare tactics distract you from the power that you and your co-workers possess. We won our staffing victory as RNs coming together in NUHW, despite the dire  predictions by SEIU International staff who simply don’t know Kaiser and truly don’t know our hospital.

We are proving at Kaiser Sunset the real power of a  member-led union. As Sal Rosselli, the interim president of our union is  fond of saying, “There is no limit to empowering workers.”

We’re putting that into action every day at Kaiser Sunset Los Angeles Medical Center for ourselves and for the patients we care for.

LaNeta Fitzhugh, RN, Kaiser Sunset/LAMC


Bio: LaNeta Fitzhugh has worked as a registered nurse at Kaiser since 1982. In that time, she has served as a steward, chief shop steward and elected executive board member of her union. She was recently elected by her co-workers as the Chief Shop Steward for RNs at Kaiser Sunset Los Angeles Medical Center with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).


{NUHW, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, is a vibrant and democratic movement of healthcare workers, dedicated to dignity, justice, and healthcare for all. NUHW Voice features blog posts by workers from NUHW’s Our Voices page. You can follow NUHW on Facebook and Twitter.}

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.}

WaPo: “an awkward moment for SEIU”

When Alec MacGillis of the Washington Post noted last Wednesday that this is “an awkward moment for the SEIU,” he alerted readers to a reality those following the labor movement have recognized for some time.

Andy Stern, President of SEIU, viewed as “a possible savior of labor” per MacGillis, has led SEIU into a pattern of activity that calls into question whether SEIU’s leaders really believe in the principles they claim to stand for.

The simplest way to understand the gap between SEIU’s words and its actions is to understand that, for Andy Stern, the consolidation of power has consistently trumped principle. While supporting Stern and SEIU once seemed like ‘one stop shopping’ for progressives looking to support workers, that support increasingly comes at the price of turning a blind eye to a troubling pattern of hypocrisy.

corporate-style layoffs

As MacGillis reports, SEIU is laying off 75 of its own organizers who are themselves members of a staff union (the Union of Union Representatives), while it hires short-term contract workers at lower pay to work on its political goals. While Stern is right to recognize the election of Barack Obama as a powerful political opportunity for workers, these lay-offs run directly counter to the goal Stern expressed when Change to Win was founded-which was to grow the labor movement by committing resources to organizing the unorganized throughout whole industries. Further, the layoffs have earned the wrath of the very organizers that Stern once praised:

…the workers union, which goes by the somewhat postmodern name of the Union of Union Representatives, has filed charges of unfair labor practices against the SEIU with the National Labor Relations Board. The workers union’s leaders say that the SEIU is engaging in the same kind of practices that some businesses use: laying off workers without proper notice, contracting out work to temporary-staffing firms, banning union activities and reclassifying workers to reduce union numbers.

It’s completely hypocritical,” said Malcolm Harris, president of the workers union. “This is the union that’s been at the forefront of progressive issues, around ensuring that working people and working families are taken care of, but when it comes to the people that work for SEIU, they haven’t set the same standards.

In fact, blogger Adios Andy is reporting that SEIU’s staff union has also filed an Equal Opportunity complaint against SEIU “alleging both age and racial discrimination.”


a growth strategy that only grows SEIU at the expense of other unions

While UNITE-HERE works through its own internal disagreements about what’s in the best interests of its members, and seeks to leave the Change to Win coalition it helped form, SEIU has inserted itself into that discussion by seeking to split off a substantial portion of UNITE-HERE’s membership and at the same time move SEIU into jurisdictions covered by HERE. This strategy is nothing new for Stern and SEIU, despite Stern’s long-running claim that organizing the unorganized is SEIU’s primary focus. In fact, UNITE-HERE has released a policy paper (pdf) documenting SEIU’s campaigns against other unions.

Labor writer Juan Gonzalez of the New York Daily News and Democracy NOW! added his perspective in this February Daily News editorial:

[Andy Stern’s] 2-million member SEIU is fast becoming the Roman Empire of the labor movement. Stern is forever on the prowl for new workers to absorb into his empire and he doesn’t much care how he does it.

We are not shy in saying that their members would be better off if they were all in SEIU,” Stern said yesterday.

It is not an idle offer. Stern acknowledged he has assigned teams of lawyers and staff members to study legal documents and prepare proposals for such a merger.

Meanwhile, labor strategist Steve Rosenthal, Stern’s best friend and the husband of an SEIU vice president, is coordinating a campaign on behalf of Raynor to force the breakup of UNITE HERE and keep the bank away from Wilhelm.

“This is nothing less than a hostile takeover of our union by Andy Stern,” said another leader of UNITE HERE who sides with Wilhelm.

Not-always-safe-for-work anti-Stern gossip columnist Perez Stern presciently raised questions about this tactic in a post about this purple mailer sent out to union members in Pennsylvania. It is now clear that Workers United, the SEIU-affilliated union formed last weekend is growing at the direct expense of UNITE-HERE and with no indication that there was any authentic democratic process by which the members had any input in the decision to affilliate with SEIU themselves.


a pattern of corruption

Equally troubling, Andy Stern has built the leadership of SEIU through a series of appointments that reveal a systemic tolerance of corruption and financial improprieties like double salaries and payments to family members and friends. A series of articles appearing in the Los Angeles Times highlighted corruption scandals with Stern’s California appointees, including Annelle Grajeda, Alejandro Stephens, Tyrone Freeman and James Bryant. Several of Stern’s appointees have resigned from office because of corruption scandals, only to be given another highly-paid job by Stern.

The most recent story reported:

The Service Employees International Union’s highest-ranking California officer has resigned that position and two other leadership posts in the wake of an internal investigation of payments to her ex-boyfriend, it was announced today. The SEIU said its inquiry found no wrongdoing by Annelle Grajeda, who was one of six executive vice presidents of the national union as well as the head of its California council and the local that represents Los Angeles County workers.

The union said Grajeda, who could not be reached for comment, had decided to become an assistant to the SEIU’s secretary-treasurer in Washington, D.C.

The best antidotes to corruption by union officials are clear policies that guarantee transparency and allow members a free and democratic process to replace officers they don’t trust. For example, the member-led executive board of SEIU-UHW, the elected board deposed by Andy Stern in his January trusteeship of SEIU-UHW, routinely reviewed and approved every single check their local wrote.


a hypocritical scare campaign

SEIU is contradicting itself on whether workers should be able to choose their union. Rather than holding a principled position the issue, SEIU is telling healthcare workers in California they’ll lose everything if they change unions, while telling Los Angeles city government workers the opposite. SEIU calls NUHW supporters “reckless” for encouraging workers to change unions, while SEIU has an entire website to encourage city government workers to decertify their union and join SEIU.

Here’s a sample of what SEIU is telling healthcare workers (pdf), compared with what they are telling city government workers in LA:

What happens to our current contract and negotiated raises if we vote to join NUHW?

-SEIU is telling UHW members they will lose everything if they vote to join NUHW.

-SEIU is telling L.A. city professionals: “Until L.A. city professionals determine in a transparent and empowering process what a new collective bargaining agreement should include, the current contract remains in place.”

How do we know we won’t lose our current wages and benefits?

-SEIU is telling UHW members that the current contract and retirement benefits will all be lost if they vote to join NUHW.

-SEIU is telling L.A. City professionals: “The decision on whether to accept a contract belongs to the membership and members would never vote to ratify a contract that reduces benefits.”

The only consistent principle here seems to be that, in every case, Stern will say whatever it takes to consolidate power — even if it means lying to healthcare workers seeking to join NUHW. That shows a troubling lack of principle.


a fundamental inconsistency on a worker’s right to choose

What’s even more troubling is that while the entire labor movement supports the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) so that workers can join a union by majority sign-up (by signing cards or petitions), SEIU is now actively opposing the use of majority sign-up by workers choosing to leave SEIU. In fact, SEIU is doing everything in its power to thwart and obstruct the freely-expressed desire of 91,000 California healthcare workers to build their own, member-led union in California.

When the workers at four California Nursing homes used majority sign-up-the same procedure encouraged by EFCA-to vote to join NUHW, this is what SEIU’s spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette had to say:

“This is not a done deal,” SEIU spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette said. She said the SEIU on Tuesday filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing North American Healthcare of “illegally recognizing” the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Further, Dave Regan, SEIU-UHW trustee wrote an email addressed to SEIU members in California saying this about workers’ petitions:

We are filing a Unfair Labor Practice against the employer for illegally recognizing NUHW.  If an employer chooses to collude with NUHW and base their recognition on tainted cards, it does so at its own risk and we will pursue every avenue to hold NUHW and the employer accountable and to ensure that the workers are able to make a fair, informed choice about representation.

Attacking workers who used majority sign-up to choose their union, using rhetoric that undermines the Employee Free Choice Act, further demonstrates the hypocrisy that has gripped SEIU.


trapping workers using the “contract bar” is the opposite of free choice

The healthcare workers building NUHW are ardent supporters of EFCA. They know full well which union they’ve chosen to represent them. But their choice is being thwarted by SEIU using the exact same methods employers have used to oppose workers’ choice in the past: lawsuits, delays, intimidation, and false information. However, SEIU has an additional tool at its disposal: abuse of the “contract bar.”

SEIU’s use of the “contract bar” in its legal attacks on healthcare workers has not passed unnoticed by labor scholars. As Wesleyan sociologist Jonathan Cutler (and author of “Labor’s Time: Shorter Hours, the UAW, and the Struggle for American Unionism.”) wrote in the Hartford Courant:

Incumbent unions love the security afforded by a government policy that blocks external challengers and thwarts escape by union dissidents. It is no coincidence, then, that in late February the Service Employees International Union – one of the unions pressing most aggressively for the “easy-entry” card-check provision of the Employee Free Choice Act – invoked the “no-exit” contract-bar rule in an increasingly fierce battle with activist health care workers from its enormous 150,000-member local in California who want to dump SEIU and join a rival group, the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Cutler further argues that energized, democratic dissidents like NUHW are, in fact, good for the labor movement.

In March 2008, one of the nation’s most prominent law firms specializing in helping employers manage labor trouble distributed a memo analyzing the growing challenge to the SEIU. The memo warned that “this struggle” would “almost certainly” result in “an energized and aggressive” union movement “in California and elsewhere.” The “debate” will force all contenders to prove that they “can bargain strong contracts and organize new members effectively.” “Employers are advised,” the memo concluded, to prepare for “more aggressive organizing and collective bargaining campaigns.” In other words, prepare for a strong labor movement. But that strong labor movement depends on real employee free choice. In the last instance, union revitalization does not await the end of the secret ballot in union elections but the end of the contract-bar doctrine and the freedom to replace ineffectual unions with nimble, hungry challengers.


an antidote to SEIU’s failure of principle: union democracy

There is an antidote to Andy Stern’s rush to consolidate power at the expense of SEIU’s staff, its principles, its good name, the truth, and its members. That antidote is union democracy, reform, and worker self-determination. This democratic spirit is embodied in the 91,000 healthcare workers who have decided to form their own new, member-led, democratic union, in direct response to Stern’s failure to lead on principles.

The election of Barack Obama does indeed represent an opportunity for workers and their progressive allies to make advances on a wide array of crucial legislation, from EFCA to health care. However, we are stronger when we conduct ourselves by the principles we purport to stand for. There are always those who think that we might win more battles if we don’t criticize, if we brook no dissent and pursue deals with corporations and politicians at any cost. However, at some point, the broader progressive movement needs to ask Andy Stern and SEIU the hard questions about Stern’s consistent failures to live up to the principles he says he stands for.

Turning a blind eye to that lack of principle is not acceptable; in fact, it puts the labor movement at risk. Above all, workers’ right to self-determination is not something the labor movement can afford to compromise. In the case of NUHW, Andy Stern would have us turn our back on the democratic will of tens of thousands of California health care workers who’ve chosen, in the face of intimidation and a scare campaign led by SEIU, to build a new, democratic union out of the ashes of the old.

What these workers are building in the face of adversity is a member-led beacon pointing a way forward for the labor movement. It is also a powerful antidote to the lack of principle Andy Stern has exhibited in his quest to consolidate power.


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.}

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.}

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.  

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.

SEIU: You Won’t Intimidate Organized Rank-and-File Union Members

In my years as an activist member with SEIU United Healthcare Workers – West I have been a part of many struggles for working people.  But in the last months we have been in a different kind of fight.  We have stood up to the arrogance of Andy Stern, Anna Burger and other SEIU International officers who, in an attempt to flex their muscles and stifle dissent, have chastened many rank-and-file members and our local, United Healthcare Workers – West with the threat of trusteeship.  But I will say now, organized union members will never be intimidated by anyone, International Union officers included.  We will stand up to anyone.

I saw this stifling of members’ voices at the SEIU Convention in Puerto Rico from the moment we entered the convention center, when our delegation was harassed and followed.  I saw this as the Convention voted to move me and other workers out of my union and into corrupt Local 6434, ignoring our right to decide where we belong.  The hundreds in Puerto Rico voted to move us 65,000 from California.  But we were not intimidated then.

UHW member Ella Raiford, protesting the Convention’s vote to force members out of UHW.

In response, we came out in force.  At our mass demonstration in Manhattan Beach, where we organized 6000 members to protest another sham hearing, I personally went up to Anna Burger and confronted her, telling her that we will not be swayed and demanded that Stern and Burger meet with our membership.  We aren’t furniture, we can’t be moved around on their whims.   We weren’t surprised when she said no to a meeting.  We stood strong in front of them, never scared.

My UHW brothers and sisters protesting the International’s plans to divide us in July.

We continued on to Madison, Wisconsin, where a group of us were determined to meet with SEIU International.  We continued in our demands for a meeting with Andy Stern, and to our surprise he agreed to meet us for a brief talk.  But he said very little to us, claiming that he couldn’t say anything without his lawyers.  Instead of our elected officers working for us, Andy and Anna wanted the lawyers to do their job, so they could wash their hands when we pressed them with questions.  When faced with dozens of informed, angry union members, maybe our International union officers were intimidated by us!


We confronted Andy Stern; me right after our meeting with him.

And most recently, I and fifty other UHW members occupied the SEIU International office in Alameda to demand answers from out-of-touch union officials who support taking away our voice.  We shouldn’t be afraid to confront them — they work for us!

Us confronting International officials at the SEIU Office in Oakland.

This is a movement of union members who have one goal: to keep our democratically run union, UHW, where we make decisions.  I and others in our union have confronted our bosses and won, through the power of organized union members.  We are not afraid to take on any fight, even against SEIU International officials.

JuanAntonio Molina

Proud UHW Member

In-Home Healthcare Provider

San Francisco, CA

On the Ground at the SEIU-UHW Trusteeship Hearing

Yesterday thousands of SEIU United Healthcare Workers – West members gathered at the San Mateo fairgrounds to protest the bogus hearing being held by SEIU International intended to put their member-led local into trusteeship.  UHW members had these responses to SEIU’s stated plan of taking over the local and installing more hand-picked leaders.  

UHW members’ rank-and-file TV spot: Keepin’ It Real 1 of 2

Keepin’ it Real 2 of 2

Check out more coverage from union members on the ground at http://www.seiuvoice.org.

Live from the SEIU-UHW Trusteeship Hearing

Things are hopping here in San Mateo. There are around 3,000 UHW members here now, and they estimate about 6,000 will have come through by the end of the day tomorrow. The hearing hall is apparently packed to the rafters – only SEIU members are allowed in. Buses are arriving every few minutes to disgorge more members. First thing that happens is they go to a teach-in, then get signs and participate in rallies.

UHW has also set up a phonebank which is hopping right now – not an empty seat to be found. Currently they’re calling other union members to explain the situation here. They plan to call union members in swing states for Obama later today but SEIU hasn’t yet delivered the call lists.

You have to see this to really understand how the members are thinking and reacting. I saw this at the UHW Leadership Convention in San José but it’s been confirmed here in San Mateo: the UHW membership has NO interest whatsoever in being trusteed. They don’t trust the International’s leaders, owing to several years of conflict over contract negotiations, including allegations that SEIU International monitors have been trying to go around elected bargaining teams.

I know that many progressives are understandably trying to stay neutral or stay out of this. SEIU International and Andy Stern have been valuable patrons of progressive bloggers and have given valuable support to progressive candidates like Donna Edwards. I get why many progressives want to stay out of it.

But this just doesn’t feel right. At the core of progressive values is democracy. Whether it’s Americans or union members we progressives understand that democracy is the only way the people’s needs will be met, because people have the power to do it themselves. When democracy is undermined needs go unmet. In other SEIU locals run by appointed leaders, like Tyrone Freeman, significant financial scandals have resulted. These discourage members from becoming active and seeking the change we all know we need. Progressive bloggers need to be as wary of this as are the nation’s leading labor scholars, who full well understand the long-term costs of undermining democracy.

This is a very diverse crowd where we white men are not just a minority, but stick out like sore thumbs. UHW is doing revolutionary work in mobilizing the very Californians who will be the base and the activists and the leaders of progressive change. If the International destroys their union it’s going to take a LONG time to get back to this moment of incipient, transformative change.