Tag Archives: healthcare workers

Kaiser Aftermath: How About Some Competition to Organize Healthcare Workers?

Little Rock       Probably surprising none of the organizers involved or anyone looking at the campaign, the vote count on the rerun decertification election between the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) produced the same result with a wider margin as Kaiser hospital workers in California overwhelming voted for SEIU by almost a 2 to 1 margin, 58.4% to 40.6%.   In such a landslide both sides had to have known the outcome for many weeks, and the NUHW and its new partner, the powerful California Nurses’ Association (CNA), likely did not pull the petition simply as a talking point for the future as they engage other healthcare workers and try to put a spin on the defeat.  SEIU won this round hands down, but their victory is pyrrhic, if it doesn’t now come with the grace that goes with leadership.

I wouldn’t bet on it, but it would be wonderful, if this closed one chapter for all the unions involved and opened another.   This whole division among unions in California has been a disaster for all involved, undermining the stature and reputation of all of the organizations and their leadership, dividing workers from each other therefore only benefiting employers, costing millions, and reducing the strength of all progressive forces everywhere.  It has to stop now for the sake of the labor movement and workers everywhere, especially in the healthcare industry.

SEIU and Mary Kay Henry, its international president, as one of the largest unions in the country has to lead the reconciliation.

There’s no need to pretend this would or should be a love feast, but conflict has to now be replaced by competition, and the competition has to be to organize the more than 95% of all healthcare workers in the United States who don’t have any union protection or advocacy.  The union density numbers are a little better in California, but not by a world of difference.  The same energy, dollars, and staffing used by these organizations to fight against each other should now be committed for deployment into organizing the unorganized. 

If there was real leadership in the labor movement, the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka would be calling his affiliate, the head of the national nurses’ union, and doing everything possible to see that they and the CNA moved forward in a new direction.  The list would start there, but union leaders everywhere, including in SEIU and the Change to Win federation, are all better at pushing the buttons behind the scene to connect with people who know people at every level, and in this mess one of the problems is that too many people know each other too well and know too much about each other.  When the labor movement mattered, a real Secretary of Labor would be calling the President, and then President Obama would be making calls that could not be avoided to Trumka, Henry, and Rose DeMarco and calling them to Camp David to make a deal and make it stick.  Kaiser and the Catholics and other employers would be hitting the speed dial on their phones as well. 

Let there be competition, but with ground rules and real understandings about turf and targets.  Sure NUHW will get bigger and might go from 10,000 members today to 100,000 in the future, but the nurses and SEIU stand to get exponentially larger not only in California, but everywhere, if we can finally get unions to focus on the future opportunities and not the past problems.

With the coming of Obamacare the whole world is shifting around healthcare in terms of access and expenditure, and will be shifting for workers as well, requiring unions to speak with a clearer, more united voice, and creating a huge opportunity for healthcare unions to see huge membership increases if they go “pedal to the metal” on organizing. 

It’s past time.

Kaiser Election Audio Blog


Teachers and Health Care Workers Strike, Welcome to Cairo!


Military moves in

Cairo        The first day is a “shakeout” day for the Organizers’ Forum and with an outstanding delegation of over 20 people from diverse and outstanding organizations in the USA and Canada, just moving about from place to place was a project in the crowds and chaos of Cairo.  After an excellent orientation offered by individual

Cairo residents and activists in the January 25th and 28th activities, and particularly in the post-revolution campaigns to really create change from these movements and build the organizational capacity to sustain it all, we almost felt like we had been there ourselves.

Listening to Ahmed Rehab of CAIR in Chicago talk about the meeting at the mosque and the excitement of pouring out into the streets with the crowd shouting “Down the Mubarak!” and seeing the crowds build in waves from around the city as the protesters took the Square through his eyes, we felt like we were there.  Equally moving was hearing our visiting sisters speak to us of how change worked block by block as women moved to organized the security for the communities, stood on their balconies in Zamalek, made the maps and assigned the men, all the way down to pulling on helmets and poles to fight hand to hand themselves.  We were hearing how change happens in the mess of real life, where some have to take the first uncertain and scary steps and others have to make sure the change leaches down to the deepest points in every community and finding the personal power to prevail.  This is what happens in th


e mess of movements.  Every word from our new friends cried to the sky for change.

Later in mid-afternoon we moved to the streets across for one of the ministry buildings only a few blocks from Tahrir Square.  Several unions including the teachers and the health care workers had begun strikes and were rallying in central Cairo to build support and increase the pressure.  At first the scene was so calm, I couldn’t believe this was really a union rally, but after pushing into Square and finding nothing, we were back between the police line and the encroaching military.  This was a post-revolution strike.  There was no fear in the air even as as a small delegation of the military moved to clear the area before the curfew.  The players now knew their lines and moved within the new script.  There was drama, but it was mostly drama, rather than the knife point of pressure and reaction.  No strike would be won or lost on this street as we watched the health care union demand more money.

Morning or afternoon it was hard not to hear the repetition of disappointment.  There was pride at the surprise and power of the change, but there was disappointment on the pace and product of change.  There was optimism but it was now tempered by the difficulty of digging out the established folks who were dug in for power.  The problem of having lost one overarching target and now holding the coalition


together as parties and politicians elbowed forward to the November election day, was depressing, difficult, and depressing.

There is no sugar in our coffee in Cairo.  It’s strong and bitter.  But it is also exhilarating and promises an amazing week before us as we try to get our arms around the revolution and the work to be done.