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CNA and SEIU tussle over nurses in Ohio

It seems the Oakland-based, politically active California Nurses Association and its national arm, the National Nurses Organizing Committee, have gotten into a nasty tussle with the Service Employees International Union out in Ohio.

From a Huffington Post blog:

There are 8,000 hospital workers in Ohio who should have joined the union last week but did not — because of the union-busting tactics of the California Nurses Association. I used to work for SEIU District 1199 in Ohio, working for years on this very campaign to unionize nurses, and I don’t even know how to start talking about this. Jane asked me a week ago for my thoughts, but it’s been painfully hard to put into words.

Here’s the bare bones summary of what happened, from the New York Times. But of course it is much, much more complicated than this:

The Service Employees International Union was brimming with confidence about unionizing 8,300 workers at nine Ohio hospitals through elections that were scheduled for this Wednesday and Friday. But then organizers from a rival union, the California Nurses Association, swept into town, buttonholing workers and maneuvering their way into hospital wards, to press the workers to vote not to join the S.E.I.U.

The blog goes on to describe a nine-year organizing battle that led to a “neutrality agreement from CHP (Catholic Healthcare Partners) for free and fair union elections — a vote free of interference, harassment or intimidation from their supervisors.”

Eight thousand workers, about to join the union–and then outsiders from a rival union, the California Nurses Association (CNA), started leafleting and harassing workers in the week before their vote, telling them to vote “no,” creating such mass confusion and hysteria that SEIU was finally forced to cancel the elections altogether.
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What is particularly unbelievable is the fact that the CNA tried to paint the neutrality agreement between the hospital and the workers — an agreement the workers spent years fighting for — as some sort of “sweetheart deal…”

Now SEIU is gathering signatures on a petition to the CNA that “Silencing Nurses Voices Is Not a Victory.”

I contacted CNA Communications Director Charles Idelson for a rebuttal, and here it is:

SEIU International cut a back room deal with a big hospital chain, Catholic Healthcare Partners, setting up a rigged election.

The first point they have failed to answer is this — It was SEIU and CHP that called off the election, not us. The first question to ask is if there was so much support among the RNs and other employees to join SEIU, why not just go ahead? The reason, once their undemocratic scam was exposed, it was evident there was not majority support for SEIU.

Allowing a company to hand-pick a union for its employees without their consent while stifling dissent and even discussion is not democratic, and it certainly is not the way to build a labor movement that has the trust and confidence of working people.

How did they do it?

  • 1- The employer filed for the election, not the union, without a single signed union card, an unpleasant reminder of the bad old days of company unions when companies imposed hand-picked unions without the consent of their employees.
  • 2- SEIU and CHP manipulated labor law to prevent any other union from being able to participate on the ballot. Similar underhanded behavior did not create a democratic election in Michigan, and it didn’t at CHP either.
  • 3- RNs and other employees were specifically forbidden from talking about the union or the election — not only a violation of their free speech rights, but a cynical repudiation of what it takes to build genuine collective, union power in the workplace.
  • 4- SEIU and CHP also conspired to gag dissent outside the hospitals as well. When NNOC/CNA RNs arrived to hand out flyers to RNs, they were stalked and harassed by SEIU staff, slapped with a court order by CHP, and two people were arrested.
  • This is the Andy Stern model of organizing, pressure employers or sweet talk employers to hand him workers. In this case, we’ve heard a lot of talk about how SEIU waged a corporate campaign, how SEIU filed a lawsuit, ad nauseam. The workers are not chattel, SEIU is not entitled to them no matter how much money they spent.

    And while SEIU is on their high horse, perhaps they would care to explain their behavior in Puerto Rico where Dennis Rivera, head of SEIU Healthcare, is collaborating with the anti-union governor of the island to destroy a militant teachers union. The governor wants to get rid of the teachers have had the temerity of challenging bad working conditions and an undemocratic no strike law. So the governor held secret meetings with Rivera, who has banded together with an association of school principals and managers to create a “new” teachers union affiliated with SEIU to replace the militant one.

    UPDATE @ 7:50 A.M. THURSDAY: Here are a few other media accounts of what went down, from the Chicago Tribune, the Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the Associated Press via the Akron Beacon Journal.

    Josh Richman

    Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

    • OhioGuy

      What a complete, sad distortion of the truth. Points 2, 3 and 4 are complete lies, and point 1 is distorted to help cover CNA’s horrible mistake. The only reason they’re getting away with it is because they find people like you who print it. Novel idea: how about talk to someone who was to vote in this election before writing about it? Probably because neither you, nor CNA, really knows anyone in Ohio.