If the United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) had free reign – that is, freedom to operate independently of its SEIU overlords back east – what would be the result? Very likely, it would be an expansion of the Service Employees’ penchant for aggressive card-check procedures to organize employees. What Sal Rosselli and UHW organizers weren’t counting on was worker resistance, and successful resistance at that. On July 9, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled in favor of four Kaiser Permanente employees in Southern California who had filed unfair labor practice charges against the union only weeks earlier. The workers alleged that the UHW had engaged in a deceptive card-check campaign, telling nonunion employees that signing a card was merely a request for more information about unionizing rather than a formal endorsement of union recognition. What’s more, UHW-SEIU organizers allegedly engaged in unlawful bargaining over employee wages and working conditions before the employees had a chance to select the union as their representative.
The lead plaintiff, Lisa Eklund, and three co-workers were angry over the formal union recognition last December by Kaiser on the basis of that card check. They requested that the union identify which employees were inside and outside the collective-bargaining unit. Organizers were unable to do this. At that point, the dissenting workers went to the NLRB, whose probe concluded that the union had manipulated the size of the bargaining unit and secured signatures from ineligible employees.
The case will affect up to 400 Kaiser Permanente employees throughout the Southern California area, only a small fraction of the company’s total work force. But it sends a clear message that organizing drives have to stay within reasonable bounds. That’s a safeguard that recent card check legislation in Congress failed to incorporate, a major reason why the Senate on June 26 failed to muster the necessary 60 votes to bring the measure to a full-floor vote. The Springfield, Va.-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which assisted the plaintiffs, sees the decision as a victory for worker freedom. “SEIU officials have been repeatedly caught red-handed running roughshod over employee rights during these coercive organizing drives,” said Stefan Gleason, foundation vice president. “These campaigns give employees two basic choices – union “yes” or union “yes.” (National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, 7/9/07).