Early Hits NYT Slanted Reports On SEIU-NUHW Fight At Kaiser

To Mr. Arthur Brisbane,
The Public Editor, NY Times:

When a big employer violates federal labor law, and its misconduct affects the outcome of the largest private sector union representation vote since 1941, shouldn’t Times readers be informed about this?

Steven Greenhouse’s Oct. 9, 2010 article on the recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election at Kaiser Permanente (“Big Union Wins Vote Against a Rival in California”) quotes a Kaiser spokesperson, John E. Nelson, who declared that the election was “fair.”

Mr. Greenhouse reports: “Mr. Nelson said Kaiser was neutral throughout the campaign and had ‘cooperated fully with the N.L.R.B. to assure that we met our legal obligations.’ ”

Nowhere in this article does Greenhouse mention that the NLRB has issued a major unfair labor practice complaint against Kaiser for violating its duty to bargain fairly with 2,300 employees who left the “big union” (the Service Employees International Union) in January and joined its “rival” (the National Union of Healthcare Workers. The Board’s regional director in southern California has accused Kaiser of withholding a scheduled 2% raise last April—a management action that unlawfully punished the defecting SEIU members for their exercise of “employee free choice.” 

If Kaiser had "cooperated fully" with the NLRB and met its "legal obligations," this case would have been settled last Spring, and the affected workers would have been paid what they were owed under their old contract. Instead, management misconduct cast a long shadow on the just-completed election, in which 43,000 Kaiser employees chose to stick with SEIU, rather than change unions and be treated like their 2,300 co-workers now represented by NUHW. 

On Oct. 4, the NLRB sought what’s called a “10(j) injunction” in federal court, to obtain immediate back pay and other benefits for the 2,300 workers, while their case is still being litigated. This action is taken in only a handful of unfair labor practice proceedings every year, where the damage to workers rights is particularly egregious. Yet Greenhouse makes no mention of this in his article, again failing to provide readers with a full and accurate picture of the employer behavior that influenced the outcome of the latest SEIU vs. NUHW contest at Kaiser. 

In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that I am an active supporter of NUHW. But as someone with 35 years of experience in labor law, labor journalism, and union organizing, I find the omission of these salient details to be quite a lapse in The Times’ usual standards of reporting. 

Steve Early

KC Labor Home Daily Labor News Digest 

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