by a Registered Nurse Who Was There

Marilyn Albert, RN
Cleveland, Ohio
NNOC Ohio member and organizer
30 year member of 1199 in New York City

Submitted by the author to LaborPortside

"...legitimate questions have been raised about the
top-down nature of some specific SEIU neutrality
agreements. A careful look at criticisms aimed at SEIU
raises more general questions about the wisdom of those
neutrality-based organizing campaigns that neither
engage workers in struggle nor build union solidarity."

  - Richard Hurd, Professor of Labor Studies, Cornell
University, "Neutrality Agreements: Innovative,
Controversial, and Labor's Hope for the Future", New
Labor Forum Spring 2008

The history of SEIU's attempts to get workers under
contract at the Catholic Health Partners chain of
hospitals must be understood by those who want to be
accurately informed about the role of the National
Nurses Organizing Committee/California Nurses Assn. in
leafleting the hospitals last week. Foremost is the
question of how much actual organizing of workers did
1199SEIU do at CHP?    I don't claim to know all of the
almost decade-long history, but I participated in the
first organization of a CHP hospital in Lorain, Ohio,
as a member of 1199SEIU,  in 1999. I have lived and
worked in Northeast Ohio for the past five years.  I
participated in leafleting fellow Ohio RNs and health
care workers at CHP hospitals last week as a member of
the National Nurses Organizing Committee.

In 2005,  1199 SEIU, as part of their corporate
campaign against CHP, organized a vote for a Hospital
Accountability Law in Springfield, Ohio, one of the
locations of a CHP hospital. Although the union
predicted a victory, in fact, the proposed law was
soundly defeated by thousands of votes following a
community backlash against SEIU criticizing their
community hospital.

A few months ago, SEIU lost an NLRB election for three
out of five bargaining units at the first CHP hospital
at which they organized RNs, in Lorain, Ohio.


Steven Greenhouse's article of March 12, 2008 in the
New York Times, other coverage by corporate media,  and
SEIU's media spin fail to bring to light a few central
points about the SEIU deal with Catholic Health
Partners over a quicky election for March 12 and 14,

The central fact of this situation was the agreement
between the employer and SEIU to utilize an NLRB "RM
petition" to facilitate a fast election, which the Bush
NLRB quickly agreed to. Use of RM petitions is
dangerous, not only to health care workers, but to all
workers in the US.

Several other international unions have expressed
support for NNOC/CNA in our view of the use of this RM
petition. Although SEIU President Andy Stern appealed
to the AFLCIO to reign in NNOC/CNA, the AFLCIO took no
such action against us, as its affiliate.


An "RM petition" is an employer petition. It is filed
by an employer when one or more unions claim to
represent the employer's employees or when the employer
has reasonable grounds for believing that the union
does not represent a majority of employees.

In this case, using an RM petition relieved SEIU of
having to prove majority support or even producing  a
single authorization card from a single worker.

The agreement between SEIU and the hospital allowed a
fast election to be called, where neither side would
campaign (though there were reports of the employer
telling nurses to vote for SEIU.)   The pro-corporate
media is buying into the spin that such an agreement is
"groundbreaking" and "fair".

However, if we look at such an agreement from the
workers' point of view - where is the fairness in being
rushed into an election, where the vast majority of
workers had little if any knowledge of SEIU?  How could
workers find out more about SEIU during this two week
period of neutrality?  They could call a hot line phone
number to ask questions!  Under the rules of the
agreement, with "no campaigning", the workers -
whatever their views or loyalties - could not organize
their fellow workers prior to the voting - what kind of
unionism is that?

What does it mean for a major US union to create a
"model" for labor relations which virtually allows an
employer to pick their favorite union to have to deal

Did SEIU really organize workers at CHP?  Labor
activists should ask what District 1199 Ohio has been
doing for almost a decade regarding this employer.  It
is perfectly reasonable in this period for unions to
seek neutrality agreements, but the question is:  what
is the nature of the neutrality agreement?

How could a few organizers over a few days influence
the situation if SEIU had a real base? NNOC/CNA would
have been a pimple on an elephant last week if they had
really organized the workers and built an organization
at CHP. Nurse after nurse to whom we spoke said they
were voting against SEIU and they had clearly made up
their minds long before NNOC/CNA arrived on the scene.
Most, including a former nursing student of mine and
his wife and sister, knew nothing about SEIU.

SEIU pulled out of the election less than 24 hours
before it was to take place because they didn't have an
organization and they didn't have majority support. In
fact, the support they did have appeared to me to be
very small.  It is impossible not to conclude that SEIU
planned to have their small minority of supporters
sweep SEIU in at CHP in a rushed election, while the
majority in their confusion,  failed to vote.

The employer has stated that this election would have
been wonderful because it would have avoided
"disruption of patient care"  and the "pressure of both
sides campaigning".  No labor supporter should be
sucked in by this boss's spin....there have been NLRB
elections for over forty years which resulted in health
workers forming unions which did not disrupt patient
care. If employers had refrained from extreme
union-busting and "union avoidance" tactics over the
same period, many more health workers would be
unionized today.  We cannot let the assertion that
"both sides" pressure workers go unchallenged...


In 2003, District 1199/SEIU in Ohio launched a campaign
to convince the citizens of Cuyahoga County (Cleveland)
not to vote for a tax levy which would support our only
public hospital and needed health services for the
poor. This was apparently an effort to put pressure on
certain human service agencies with which 1199 was
bargaining at the time.  This earned District 1199
strong criticisms from the health care community and
progressive movement in Cuyahoga County.

For those of us who are health care workers,
particularly nurses, there is a central question which
many in the labor movement tend to overlook.

This question is:  what is the role of health care
workers' unions in our society, especially in the US
where corporate health care is ruining peoples' lives
and in fact, killing patients through understaffing,
non-regulation of drugs and medical devices, etc.

As a working nurse, shop steward and organizer in
1199SEIU particularly during the period of the late
1990s and up to 2003,  it was my experience that the
union did not take up the struggle of the rights and
responsibilities of health care workers and their
unions to advocate for patients against corporate
health care and the hospital industry. The union became
immersed in the strategy of labor-management
cooperation, interest-based bargaining, and "strategic
alliances".  Whether in collective bargaining, or in
enforcing contracts and reacting to on the job, day to
day working conditions and patient care conditions, the
union did not take up the important struggle of nurse
to patient ratios, or work overload for other workers,
for fear of rocking the boat with the hospitals.

Furthermore, SEIU has supported corporate and
for-profit medicine in many instances as part of its
legislative program, and entered into agreements which
gag the union's members in health care from exposing
dangerous patient care conditions. This has been
particularly true in California.


What happened in Ohio regarding CHP must be understood
in the context of strong rejection among many within
the union and in the labor movement of SEIU's current
practice of developing what SEIU's leaders call 
"employer relationships".

The members of United Health Care Workers West, after
living with the results of these policies for years,
are now openly struggling against them.  For
information on their program, see www.seiuvoice.org
<http://www.seiuvoice.org> and www.reformseiu.org
<http://www.reformseiu.org> .  The main issues for the
California SEIUers are experimental types of agreements
with the nursing home industry which were breathtaking
in their pro-employer and pro-corporate health care
stance. All documents related to these issues are on
the websites noted above.

There is a long history of extremely concessionary and
extremely undemocratic deal-making in SEIU. I don't
claim to know it all.  But a letter dated June 18, 2007
from SEIU Healthcare President Dennis Rivera  to the
CEO of Tenet Health Care regarding California
bargaining, offers a 7 year contract with the ability
to re-open, and gives up the right to strike for the
life of the contract. Additionally, it offers to agree
with Tenet's demand for no defined benefit pension plan
or retiree health plan in their California bargaining
units.  I believe, in California, as in New York City,
defined benefit health plans and retiree health
benefits continue to prevail for unionized health care
workers, making this concession even more draconian.


Many facets of the struggle of the working class in the
US are tied up in this debate about SEIU's role.  Many
of us with a past history in SEIU hope that its
membership will turn the tide toward democratic
militancy, real social movement unionism, and reject
extreme concessions to the US health care industry.

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