Kaiser Workers to Begin Mail Ballot Election

After more than a year of delays, and a public campaign filled with bitter recriminations and high stakes legal maneuvers, beginning September 13, 45,000 Kaiser workers will start the process of choosing whether to remain represented by the SEIU-United Health Care Workers-West (SEIU-UHW) or join its rival, National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).  The vote is expected to be the largest private-sector union election since the 1941 United Auto Workers election at Ford Motor Company.

The National Labor Relations Board will conduct an election among the Kaiser workers using a mail balloting process.  The NLRB will distribute ballots to eligible voters by mail on September 13.  The voters will have three weeks to complete their ballots and return them to the NLRB.  All ballots must be returned to the NLRB by October 4 to be counted.  The NLRB will schedule a meeting to tally the ballots shortly after that time.

Whether SEIU’s recent collective bargaining agreement with Kaiser – including a three percent raise scheduled for October 1 – will remain in place if voters select NUHW to represent them is a huge point of contention in the battle for the hearts and minds of Kaiser workers.  NUHW insists the contract would remain in place if it wins the election.  SEIU denies that and points to the experience of a group of Southern California Kaiser employees who voted to join NUHW in January and did not receive a scheduled increase in April.  In late August, the NLRB filed an administrative complaint against Kaiser over that issue and ordered a hearing to be held in Los Angeles beginning on October 18 before an administrative law judge.

The unions also continue to make headline-grabbing legal claims during the final weeks leading to the election.  SEIU-UHW has publicized a court filing by NUHW seeking a stay of a $1.57 million judgment against it as evidence the upstart union is teetering on the edge of financial ruin. 

Leveraging its own underdog status, NUHW’s claims paint SEIU and Kaiser as conspiring together against it.  On August 19, NUHW and a group of Kaiser employees filed a complaint in federal court alleging that the employer violated labor laws by paying SEIU-UHW and its representatives to campaign against NUHW.  The 1940’s vintage Taft Hartley Act makes it a felony for an employer to provide anything of value to a union representative of its employees with certain limited exceptions.

We expect this battle to be hard-fought up to October 4, and likely beyond.

This entry was written by Fred Miner.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.