Unionized employees at more than 100 California hospitals and clinics voted to merge two Service Employees International Union locals for more muscle while organizing, bargaining and lobbying, said labor leaders who announced the deal last week.
The merger, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2005, consolidates an estimated 130,000 workers who are represented by SEIU Local 250, headquartered in Oakland, and Los Angeles-based Local 399.
"The creation of this new union is not only the next step, it's a necessary step to meet the ongoing challenges in the healthcare industry," said Jorge Rodriguez, executive vice president of United Healthcare Workers West and former Local 399 president. Local 250 President Sal Rosselli will be president of the newly formed local. "It just makes sense," Rosselli said. "Workers with common employers should be in the same union."
About 20% of Local 250's 100,000 members turned out for the vote. Nearly 90% of voters agreed to merge the locals. In Southern California, 38% of Local 399's 30,000 workers cast ballots and 98% approved the merger.
The pair of aggressive locals have jointly pressured major health systems with high-profile campaigns, including Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, Calif.; HCA, which owns six California hospitals; and Catholic Healthcare West, a San Francisco-based health system that settled a statewide contract covering 14,000 workers at 28 hospitals. Rosselli said SEIU workers settled open contracts with a handful of major employers in 2004, including Catholic Healthcare West, Tenet Healthcare Corp., and Los Altos Hills, Calif.-based Daughters of Charity Health System. However, rancorous negotiations with Sacramento-based Sutter Health's hospitals, prompted a recent one-day strike by SEIU and sympathetic California Nurses Association members. Sutter hospitals responded with a four-day lockout of striking workers. Kaiser's contract for employees in the newly formed local opens for renegotiation in 2005.
Karen Garner, a spokeswoman for Sutter Health, said the consolidation underscores a push to boost enrollment.