Battle Royal Between CA Nurse Union and Services Employee Union


By: Warner Todd Huston

OK, folks, grab the popcorn and settle in for this hilarious tale of union against union. It’s an epic battle of lies, underhandedness, brute force, and sweetheart deals that pits the California Nurses Association (CAN) against the Services Employees International Union (SEIU). The two unions are at each other’s throats for the prize of representing employees in the Catholic hospitals of the state of Ohio.

Here’s the Beginning of Our Story

Three years ago the SEIU cruised into the state of Ohio to organize the workers in the Catholic hospitals there, cozied up to management promising to make the burden on employers as light as possible, and set out to organize the employees.

By cozying up to management the SEIU hoped to smooth any ruffled feathers that management might have over agreeing that their employees join the union. The plumb SEIU president Andy Stern hoped to pull out of Ohio’s pie was the 8,300 workers in the Catholic hospitals in Ohio, a number that Stern was salivating to add to his burgeoning union’s numbers.

As it happens, the SEIU had worked out a deal with the hospital administrators to the effect that neither the union nor the administrators would assault the employees with all-out efforts against each other. And with that deal in place, the SEIU took the next three years to negotiate the deal.

Success was close at hand with an employee vote on joining the union set to come off this very week.

But the hopes for harmony and love for all was soon to be demolished with the entrance into the story of the California Nurses Association — a group that even The New York Times called “an unusually militant union.”

The Plot Thickens

Just as the SEIU thought everything was going swimmingly, the CNA arrived in town ready to destroy the “rigged scam” of a deal that the SEIU had worked out with the Catholic hospitals administrators.

Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the CNA — source of the “rigged scam” quote — swooped into town as the avenging angel of militant unionism. She insisted that the back room, sweetheart deals that the SEIU made with the administrators would weaken the position that the members would have to negotiate later. She insisted that the SEIU deal would ill serve the new union members and headed a strenuous effort to get the employees to vote the SEIU down and the CNA up.

“This was a top-down deal between an employer and a hand-picked union,” DeMoro told reporters. “There was a gag order on everyone, and as a result this was a banana republic election.”

It All Falls Down

And so, with the CNA stirring the pot, the sweetheart deal that the SEIU made with the administrators seems to have come to a screeching halt with the election to organize scheduled for this week scuttled by the SEIU itself. Obviously the SEIU is afraid that their prospective members have become alarmed at the supposed weak hand that the union negotiated with the Catholic administrators and so the union is afraid that the vote won’t go their way.

No new date has been set for the elections.

At Each Other’s Throats

And now the blaming and finger pointing begins. Dave Reagan, president of an SEIU local, was not too happy with the buttinskies in the CNA saying, “Their conduct is indistinguishable from that of the most vicious anti-union employers. It violates every principle of unionism. Real people are worse off today as a result of their behavior.”

Thems fitin’ words, for sure.

DeMoro of the CNA, however, touted this victory. “This is a significant victory for employee rights, patient care protections, and workplace democracy, and a huge setback for a hospital industry and SEIU that hoped to make this shoddy abuse of what should be a democratic process into a national model.”

She went on to say that the SEIU isn’t even representing the people they are claiming to organize. “SEIU depends on the complicity and support of employers even without any indication of support from the workers they are pretending to represent. That’s not what unions should stand for, and it’s not democratic.”

More fitin’ words, that.

Now Don’t Get Excited

It’s all fun and games when unions agree to hate the employers, but when they start at fitin’ each other, the fun just grows by leaps and bounds… at least for those of us that would like to see the unions discomfited.

But, here I want to warn anyone thinking that this necessarily bodes ill for the unions. Yes, they are at each other’s throats, but if anyone imagines that either one of these unions is any better than the other… well, that person has another think coming.

It is odd, of course, that a union would make back room deals with the management of a prospective union shop. Such deals have not been de rigueur in the past, to be sure. SEIU boss Stern has specialized in this sort of “numbers at any cost” style of enlarging the union, though. He imagines that if he makes the union as large as possible, garners as many new members as he can — even if it means making deals with the employers to some detriment of the union members to be — then all is good.

In an era when union membership is falling everywhere, Stern has helmed a union the bucks that trend by growing. After all, the more members the more union dues are coming in and the more members the more future power that the union can potentially wield, despite any current deals.

Because of his strategy, Stern has found some trouble even in his own house. He currently faces an insurgent group inside the SEIU that opposes the concessions he has made to multiple employers just to insure that the union gains membership. This is the weakness that the CNA is trying to exploit.

Do not be fooled into thinking that the SEIU is any better than the “militant” CNA, however. After all, once Stern grows those numbers to gargantuan proportion, he most certainly will ply those numbers into the sort of employer killing union that we are used to seeing. Once he has those members, who can expect this union chief to ever live up to any “concessions” he supposedly gave away to the employers? Unions lack the integrity to abide by any such strictures and, like governments, will always seek to gain more power not content with current levels.

So, while SEIU president Andy Stern may seem like he is weakening the union, all he is really doing is trying to corner the market so that he can then act with impunity later. It’s a pretty shrewd strategy, really. All it takes is hard work, a few well placed lies, and patience.

Still, it is amusing that the I-want-it-now set in the world of corrosive unionism is too impatient for Stern’s brand of long term thinking. So, let’s hope some real damage can be done to unions as they claw at each other over the Ohio hospital workers.

But, don’t count on it.

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