SEIU wins union vote at Kaiser

05/03/2013 12:00 AM

05/05/2013 2:42 PM

In the largest union election in America in decades, a bitter fight with personal overtones, Kaiser Permanente employees went with the incumbent.

The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West said Thursday it handily defeated a challenge by upstart National Union of Healthcare Workers.

As a result, the SEIU unit will continue representing 45,000 Kaiser employees – nursing aides, janitors and others – including 6,500 in greater Sacramento.

SEIU said it won by a 58-41 margin, with 1 percent choosing no union.

About 32,000 votes were cast in what SEIU said was the nation's largest private sector union election since Ford Motor Co. in 1941.

NUHW had a powerful ally in the California Nurses Association. The SEIU said the nurses poured $10 million into the Kaiser fight.

"It's time for people like the leaders of NUHW and CNA, who call themselves 'progressives,' to focus on organizing nonunion workers instead of attacking people who are already in a union and have the best contract in the country," said Dave Regan, president of the SEIU health care unit, in a prepared statement.

NUHW was founded in 2009 by Bay Area labor leader Sal Rosselli and Sacramentan John Borsos – two former SEIU executives who had been ousted.

A federal jury in 2010 ordered Rosselli, Borsos and more than a dozen others to pay SEIU about $1.5 million, concluding that they had improperly used SEIU dues to form the rival union.

That same year, the new union lost a challenge to replace SEIU at Kaiser. Those results were thrown out after the National Labor Relations Board said SEIU had engaged in unfair tactics.

Reacting to the latest vote, NUHW maintained a defiant stance. It said SEIU won through "fear and collusion."

The new union, based in Emeryville, contended that SEIU had gone soft – negotiating contracts with Kaiser that resulted in deep cuts in pensions and other benefits.

It added that Kaiser claimed to be neutral but was really favoring SEIU. Last month it said the NLRB issued complaints against Kaiser for interfering with NUHW's campaign efforts.

Kaiser officials said in a statement; "As we have said and shown consistently, Kaiser Permanente is neutral in the dispute between these two unions."

SEIU officials maintained they have negotiated hard; the latest Kaiser contract includes a 12 percent pay raise.

Call The Bee's Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

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