SEIU Trustees Collude to Remove Stewards

We’ve gone from democracy to hypocrisy in California. Prior to February at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center we had labor unity. The 2,400-plus members understood the importance of union solidarity. All shop stewards were elected by the rank and file. Since that time, when our local, United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW), was put under trusteeship by the Service Employees International (SEIU), our 60-plus shop steward council is down to just a handful.

As trustees, Eliseo Medina and Dave Regan sent out a letter to all stewards saying the shop steward structure would not change. But within days I got an email from Kaiser HR saying I was no longer a shop steward. One of our contract specialists, Paul Ortiz, was informed by HR that he should pack up his office and report back to his old job in the emergency department.

About a week later we both received letters from our union. It said we were being removed as shop stewards because we did not share the same commitments as they do. After 18 years of holding management accountable, I can tell you my commitment is to members—and member democracy. Members in my department, radiology, still come to me for advice.


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Arlene Navarro had worked full-time as the Labor Partner for the Labor-Management Partnership and Workplace Safety Initiative for our hospital and satellite clinics for more than 10 years. She attended one rally for the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), the union of former UHW members and leaders that formed days after the trusteeship.

HR then informed Arlene that she was removed and would need to return to her former job in a different city. Arlene received a letter from SEIU, just like Paul and I did, after the employer had enforced their decision.

Now, we know that the employer doesn’t have the right or authority to appoint, elect, or remove shop stewards. Neither do the trustees of our union. We are elected by our co-workers, and if we don’t work out we can be recalled by the very people who elected us.

Many of the shop stewards were outraged to the point that they resigned, and many more were removed. The few that stayed on to finish out cases were told that if they were seen in public with any former shop stewards or had lunch with us, they would be removed as stewards.

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They have followed through on that threat. When Robyne Horn represented one of the former shop stewards, she was removed before the case was resolved and it has remained unrepresented by the union.

While this was going on the trustees were meeting in secret with Kaiser. They agreed to huge cuts to our pensions. Our lump sum payout will get smaller and smaller until it’s gone altogether in 2012.

SEIU brought four stewards to meet with Kaiser after the deal was made. They were told to just listen and ask no questions. SEIU appointees claimed that by including these four people, democracy was served.

Kaiser managers are showing their true colors with fewer elected shop stewards around. Some are out of control, with no accountability and no regard for Kaiser’s “no retaliation” policy. I have never seen this many terminations without just cause in just a few months. Many of us are facing discipline from the employer on trumped-up charges by managers who we used to hold accountable as shop stewards.

With union friends around California, I understand this is a common theme, not only at Kaiser but in many hospitals and nursing homes represented by UHW’s trustees. Kaiser workers knew what it was like to have a union that was made up of the people, where members were valued and respected.

Ana Frausto, a radiology technologist at Santa Clara Kaiser, told me, “Just wait—NUHW will be our union and this time will change.”

Kaiser workers will be eligible to vote in about 11 months. We will start our SEIU de-cert campaign shortly, but until then we are working to build NUHW. Right now Fresno homecare workers have been mailed ballots with the choice to be under SEIU trustees, to move to NUHW, or to have no union. UHW rank-and-file members volunteer their time to educate that NUHW is their union. It is the people you know and where workers have control.

There are many more votes coming around the corner. More than anything I can’t wait until Kaiser gets our ballots. You can help by volunteering your time or money to support the rank and file in winning their union of choice.


Find out more at National Union of Healthcare Workers.