Earlene Person

The case for SEIU at Kaiser


Editors note: In last week’s issue, we ran an op-ed piece by two hospital workers who are members of Service Employees International Union and want to change their affiliation to the new National Union of Healthcare Workers. SEIU asked for the right to respond, so we’re presenting the arguments of an SEIU worker who opposes the change.

OPINION I’m a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) at Kaiser Permanente Oakland, where I’ve worked for 26 years. As an LVN and a union shop steward, I have two passions: patients and workers.

I do home health visits. My patients are sick and sometimes feel anxious and upset. Those feelings can be overwhelming. When I walk into a patient’s house, that person has my full attention. Little things like that make people feel better and heal more quickly. That’s what’s important.

I also know that healthcare givers can’t provide good care if we don’t have the basic things we need. I worked for another hospital before, but I came to Kaiser because the benefits, wages, and working conditions were better — and the union was better.

Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), my union, is the largest at Kaiser and has represented workers here since the 1930s. It’s through our union that we’ve been able to make our jobs some of the best in California at one of the state’s largest employers. Kaiser workers are not just providing quality healthcare throughout the state, we’re also contributing to local our economies and getting our communities through these tough times.

I was one of 121 workers to be elected to the national bargaining team that negotiated our union contract, the largest committee ever in the history of our union. Members filled out surveys to set our priorities and we were able to win 9 percent raises over three years, no change in the cost of our fully-paid family healthcare, and some of the best job protection in the industry. I’m very proud that everyone’s voice was heard and that we had the largest ever rank-and-file member vote to approve our contract. But now all that could be lost.

On the heels of winning the contract, another union — the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) — filed a petition for an election to represent Kaiser workers. Now Kaiser workers will vote on which union they want: SEIU-UHW, the union we won this contact with, or NUHW, which hasn’t bargained a contract for anyone.

People want to know the truth, even if it’s a hard truth. Here’s the truth about NUHW: it was formed by former leaders of our union who were removed from office and have been found in federal court to have misused members’ money. NUHW was ordered by a federal judge to repay $1.57 million in damages to SEIU-UHW members. They then filed a motion to delay payment, saying it would potentially bankrupt the new union. But their motion was denied. Let’s face it — NUHW needs us more than we need them.

What’s going on right now with this union election is a shame. I see some of my coworkers getting afraid and angry — afraid that we could lose the wage increases and healthcare benefits we fought so hard for and angry that NUHW is coming after us like this and creating these distractions. I tell them what I tell my patients: just focus on healing and moving forward.

We have a long history at Kaiser of supporting each other as coworkers, which is why it’s so important that we resolve our differences and keep going. We’ve walked picket lines together, even when it’s to support workers in other hospitals, and have fought to improve the quality of care we deliver to patients. We’ve worked hard to create good jobs in this community while people around us are losing everything. All this has been possible because workers are united in our union SEIU-UHW. *

Earlene Person is a home health licensed vocational nurse at Kaiser Permanente Oakland and a member of the national bargaining committee for SEIU-UHW.