Life Under SEIU Trusteeship


UHWTrusteeshipCartoon: UHWTrusteeshipCartoon
Click image to enlarge. Following a big California health care local's trusteeship, a initial flurry of activity to decertify SEIU and elect the National Union of Healthcare Workers was stymied. That holding pattern is starting to break, but it's prompted a cartoon outburst.

When our union, United Healthcare Workers-West, was trusteed last January by the Service Employees, members and leaders established a democratic organization we control, the National Union of Healthcare Workers. This was followed by an initial flurry of activity centered around decertifying SEIU and electing NUHW.

When the National Labor Relations Board vetoed that option, members were left with a choice: Refuse to collaborate in any way with SEIU or insist that SEIU fulfill their responsibility to represent members in grievances and bargaining.

My plan was to lie low until our contract was up and we had the chance to elect NUHW, but recent workplace events have prompted a cartoon outburst. After years of trying to establish in our hospital that workplace changes need to be bargained with the union, I heard management announcing a fairly significant change and experienced the kneejerk “they can't do that!” reaction. This was followed by the realization that the correct protocol—working with the shop steward to bargain the change—would not be possible since we no longer have shop stewards in our department.

After the SEIU trusteeship coup, most of our department shop stewards resigned, and although a union representative has been called in for a few meetings, we’ve lost the sense of being part of the process. And yes, we could resume being shop stewards, but the idealism that inspired people to take on that arduous and time-consuming task no longer exists under SEIU.

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There hasn't been a word on the No. 1 subject of interest to anyone working in health care—national health care insurance reform. Our former union worked to involve members in legislative action, but SEIU has opted to use its union bulletin board space to deride NUHW rather than keep members posted on one of the major health reforms efforts of our era.

Also missing is any action on our contract re-opener. Our 2008 contract states that if retirement pension issues weren't resolved by September 30, the contract can be opened to enable a strike. Well, now it’s December and SEIU’s reluctance to open the contract (which would allow a decertification vote) seems to have overwhelmed their wish to improve their members' benefits as not a peep has been heard on the subject. (Therapists, nurses, and other professional workers at Southern California Kaiser facilities were told of pension cuts recently but couldn't vote on them).

Union members where I work have received no notice of changes in our retirement plan or of resolution on the disputed issue. Our former (un-trusteed) union would have included us in this process and we would have voted to ratify any agreement. Now, who knows? SEIU may have signed an agreement consigning us to retirement at the North Pole and we wouldn't hear about it until the sleigh arrived.

Yesterday and today workers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital—who have no union presently and who had their long campaign to get one shut down by SEIU when it trusteed the local—are finally voting for union representation. See this piece by Labor Notes’ Mark Brenner on the Santa Rosa vote, a breakthrough vote among Kaiser professional workers, and other developments in NUHW’s struggle to give California’s health care workers the ability to choose their union. Check back later for more!


Ellen has worked as a transcriber at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, California, for more than 30 years. Her cartoons have appeared in numerous union publications.