State of the Union
Monterey County employees petition to leave SEIU and join National Union of Healthcare Workers.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
More than 2,000 Monterey County employees could be leaving the once-powerful local SEIU chapter to join fledging National Union of Healthcare Workers. But it’s still unclear whether disgruntled union members who led the petition drive collected enough valid signatures to force an election.
County officials are still verifying the petitions internally, says NUHW spokeswoman Sadie Crabtree. (County spokeswoman Maia Carroll declined comment because “it’s a very sensitive environment.”) An election requires at least 30 percent support from the employee groups, which include Natividad Medical Center workers and child support officers.
The petitions can be confirmed by the county’s employee relations officer, or by “a mutually agreed disinterested third party,” according to county law. SEIU Local 521 President Ben Franklin says there is disagreement over who will count the votes, and neither side can give a firm election date. In Monterey County, however, discord in the union ranks is nothing new.
Several Local 521 leaders resigned recently because they want to join NUHW. They complained that a national SEIU merger usurped local leadership, and routed employee grievances to a call center in Pasadena.
“We don’t have the member-driven union we once had, and our voices are not heard,” says Julie Filice, former secretary-treasurer of Local 521. “We had a very heavy presence with the [Board of Supervisors] and we had political clout. It seems like that has been dismantled.”
Franklin counters that defected Local 521 members just have sour grapes over losing a union election in December to a reform ticket. He says decertification of SEIU will only weaken employees’ negotiating power.
“NUHW is an outside group,” he says. “They are trying to disorganize organized members.”
The bitter dispute was timed with labor negotiations between SEIU and the county over a new contract, which expires June 30. The fight goes beyond county lines.
The recently founded NUHW was formed by ousted members of SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West, including Andy Stern’s nemesis, Sal Rosselli, and John Vellardita, former executive director of Monterey County SEIU Local 817. Some 95,000 SEIU workers have petitioned to join NUHW, including 2,800 in Monterey County, according to union estimates.
NUHW has no dues-paying members yet, and interim president Rosselli says local employees’ petitions are an “extreme demonstration of how morally bankrupt and ineffective SEIU 521 is as a union.” Local 521 board members counter that some employees were misled about what they were signing.