A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative law judge has recommended throwing out the results of last year’s election between the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for 43,000 Kaiser Permanente employees in California. On July 18, 2011, Administrative Law Judge Lana H. Parke found SEIU guilty of misconduct, with collusion from Kaiser Permanente that “interfered with the employees’ exercise of a free and reasoned choice among employees” (p. 33). The vote in September/October 2010 was the largest union election in the United States in more than seven decades.
In the 34-page ruling, Judge Parke determined that the SEIU campaign “tended to stoke unwarranted and coercive voter fears… conduct [which] viewed objectively, had a reasonable tendency to interfere with unit employees’ free and uncoerced choice in the election” (pp. 14–15).
Kaiser contributed to the SEIU illegal campaign by unlawfully withholding wage increases and other promised benefits to 2,300 Southern California professional employees and registered nurses who voted overwhelmingly to be represented by the NUHW in January 2010. An NLRB administrative law judge determined that Kaiser’s conduct was illegal and forced the healthcare giant to pay millions in back pay to those employees it discriminated against.
According to Judge Parke, SEIU piggybacked on Kaiser’s illegal behavior, “and invited, if not provoked, the obvious inference that Kaiser’s [illegal] conduct would be repeated…[having] the tendency to interfere with the employees’ freedom of choice” (p. 16).
In her ruling, Judge Parke wrote that in the election, SEIU’s “communications about potential benefit losses [and] Kaiser’s Unfair Labor Practices figured as silent, menacing reminders that Kaiser not only could, but already had, unilaterally withheld benefits when other employees had chosen to be represented by NUHW” (p. 14).
Judge Parke also found that SEIU “was joined in its warnings by Kaiser’s President [Ben] Chu, who informed employees that only members of coalition unions were guaranteed PSP incentive bonuses. [SEIU] widely disseminated Chu’s statement, giving weight to [SEIU’s] repeated forewarnings that representational change might endanger PSP incentive bonuses.In these circumstances, widely disseminated warnings that the PSP incentive bonuses would not survive a change of representative must also have tended to interfere with employees’ freedom of choice” (p. 15).
“This ruling is a vindication that workers deserve the opportunity to vote in a climate free from intimidation from either Kaiser or SEIU.Kaiser should be ashamed of its illegal actions in denying frontline caregivers promised wages and benefits and giving SEIU the platform to run its unlawful campaign,” said Sal Rosselli, the president of the NUHW.
“Kaiser employees knew that SEIU was running an illegal campaign and that Kaiser through its illegal actions gave SEIU the ammunition to do that,” said Roy Chaffee, a clerk in the call center at Kaiser Vallejo.“Since the election, SEIU pulled out almost all of its staff and support, leaving individual workers to fend for themselves while Kaiser makes record profits. Workers are excited that we now have the opportunity to vote the union of their choice, NUHW.”
For more information, visit www.nuhw.org.