WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN OHIO REGARDING CATHOLIC HEALTH PARTNERS, SEIU, AND NATIONAL NURSES ORGANIZING COMMITTEE/CALIFORNIA NURSES ORGANIZATION 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. WHY DID THE NATIONAL NURSES' ORGANIZING COMMITTEE LEAFLET CHP WORKERS? 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, 2008. 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. WHAT IS A RM PETITION AND WHY IS ITS USE BY EMPLOYERS DANGEROUS TO THE LABOR MOVEMENT? 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 with? 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... WHICH IS THE BEST UNION FOR PATIENTS? 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. THE CURRENT INTERNAL STRUGGLE IN SEIU, LED BY 140,000 CALIFORNIA MEMBERS 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. SEIU WILL BE CHANGED BY ITS MEMBERS 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. PortsideLabor aims to provide material of interest to people on the left that will help them to interpret the world and to change it. To submit material to PortsideLabor: Send an email containing the material to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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