National Union of Healthcare Workers and the California Nurses Association have announced an affiliation agreement that will heat up the unions' rivalry with the Service Employees International Union.
The two groups will remain autonomous but will share personnel and financial resources. There are 10,000 members of NUHW and 85,000 members of CNA, which is a co-founder of National Nurses United, the country's largest nurses union with 185,000 members.
The affiliation gives NUHW greater leverage to broker contracts with health systems in California, such as Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente, NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. Rosselli singled out Kaiser as competition between Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West and NUHW to represent workers at the Kaiser facilities has turned ugly in recent years.
Rosselli said the move was made to give healthcare workers the strongest voice possible. “We're going to act as one union with common practices and goals,” Rosselli said. “And we're going to combine the unions' staffs' expertise and other resources to accomplish those goals.”
Rosselli said the first groups' goal is to deal with California issues and focus later on working with the NNU.
Both CNA and Oakland-based NUHW said that Kaiser and other employers—with the aid of SEIU-UHW—were colluding and negotiating contracts that were unfair to union members.
A trigger for the alliance could be the expiration of a non-compete agreement between SEIU and CNA
. The agreement, or peace accord, was adopted in 2009 and expired on Jan. 1. The agreement prevented both sides from competing for union recruits through harsh tactics and from interfering with each other. Under the pact, SEIU focused on recruiting healthcare workers while CNA zeroed in hospital nurses.
Rosselli is a former member of SEIU. He and other former SEIU members formed NUHW in 2009. They share many of the same complaints NNU members have levied at the SEIU, and say that SEIU prefers to work for the interests of the employer—systems like Kaiser and Sutter Health—instead of protecting workers' rights. Meanwhile, Oakland-based CNA has organized nine strikes in three years as the union's nurses struggle with labor talks at Sutter hospitals.
SEIU-UHW spokesman Steve Trossman called the affiliation “much ado about nothing” and said the announcement was only a natural progression of the collaboration between NUHW and NNU. SEIU-UHW counts more than 2 million members, including 43,000 members at Kaiser facilities who pay $40 million in annual union dues.
The battle for those workers, and their money, has grown bitter. The National Labor Relations Board ruled that a 2010 election for union representation—in which SEIU defeated NUHW—was unlawful after NUHW alleged Kaiser gave SEIU representatives preferential treatment. The next election could come in the spring. Trossman said SEIU doesn't feel threatened by the CNA-NUHW alliance. He points to NUHW's struggles in negotiating contracts with Kaiser and pointed to SEIU's successes, such as negotiating a recent contract that gave some Kaiser workers 18% salary increases.
A Kaiser statement claimed the organization did not do anything wrong regarding the union election. “We have not inappropriately supported or assisted either union, nor will we do so in the future. We respect the rights of our employees to choose whether they want to be represented by a union and, if so, which union will represent them,” the Kaiser statement read.