Hospital workers vote to keep union

Accusations fly as months-long effort to boot SEIU from El Camino ends

After a contentious vote, overshadowed by accusations of procedural lapses and questionable tactics, service workers at El Camino Hospital turned down a proposal to decertify their union, a hospital official confirmed.

Members of the hospital's branch of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers chose not to decertify their union in a 599-357 vote, El Camino spokeswoman Chris Ernst announced on the evening of Jan. 10.

The outcome of the vote was cheered by those who feel the SEIU provides an invaluable service for hospital workers and bemoaned by those who say the union does little except collect dues.

Kary Lynch, a union steward, voted against the decertification of the SEIU, which he said has consistently worked in the interest of its members. Lynch said he was very pleased when he learned that the decertification effort had been rejected by what he viewed as a very healthy margin of 242 votes.

"We're pretty excited about that," Lynch said. "We're hoping that this vote sends a strong message to management that the members (of the SEIU at El Camino) are united."

Lynch has maintained all along that the decertification effort has been quietly, yet aggressively, supported and pushed by hospital management, whom he said would love nothing more than to see the dissolution of the SEIU at El Camino.

It is a ludicrous charge, according to Paul Williams, who helped organize the initial petition needed before a decertification vote could be held. The petition was signed by more than 500 SEIU members -- well over the 30 percent required to hold a vote on the issue.

"The union pushed hard to make it an employee-versus-the-management election," Williams said. "That wasn't the reason for this election. This election was to bring the choice back to the workers."

Williams maintained that the whole decertification effort came from disenfranchised SEIU members at El Camino.

For its part, the hospital denies taking sides. Charlene Gliniecki, chief of people officer for El Camino, said that anyone who thought the hospital was taking sides would be "hard pressed to prove that anything like that had happened at all."

Resentment over dues

Williams said he and many others at the hospital have resented being forced to pay dues to the SEIU -- a union which represents about 1,200 El Camino employees, from janitors to dieticians. In exchange for the dues he pays, Williams said he rarely, if ever, has seen any meaningful action or help coming from the SEIU.

What he has seen, he said, is a union that continually and publicly vilifies the hospital administration.

Williams said that the SEIU has created a "divisive" atmosphere at the hospital -- seeking to inspire an "us versus them" attitude at every turn. The union aims to keep its members fearful of the hospital administration, so they will remain loyal and pay their dues on time, he told the Voice in October 2011 about the successful decertification petition.

To back up his claim, Williams pointed to a flyer that was circulating at the time, which featured this quote from Lynch: "Management will do just about anything to get rid of our union, because they know it's the only thing that stands between them and the cuts they want to make to our benefits and wages."

"That's intimidation if I've ever seen it," Williams said.

It took more than two months from the time the petition was submitted in October 2011 until the vote was held on Jan. 5. The ballot was delayed for a time by a legal action, brought by the SEIU, which claimed Williams and others had not followed protocol when collecting signatures.

During that time, Williams said, the anti-SEIU contingent lost momentum and the union "machine" was able to rally members.

The SEIU gained steam, he said, by dispatching union staffers from outside the hospital to talk to El Camino employees in break rooms and in the hallways about why they ought to vote no on decertification. According to Williams, the SEIU even sent its people to members' homes.

"We don't have time to go beat the bushes," Williams said. "We have lives to save. We don't have time to be as organized."

Contentious election

Ballots were finally cast on Jan. 5, but the outcome of the months-long battle was delayed nearly another week, after the state administrator overseeing the collection of votes at El Camino's Los Gatos campus admitted that he had not checked each voter for identification.

Some demanded an investigation to ensure that no fraud had taken place, while others accused the hospital of conducting an investigation simply to delay the outcome.

"This is probably the most contentious that I've seen it," Lynch said, commenting on the state of relations among his own union members and with hospital administration.

While Williams said he thinks the hospital administration would treat those workers currently represented by the SEIU fairly with or without the the union, Lynch begs to differ.

He pointed to the 195 pink slips that were handed out to hospital employees, including hospital administrators, nurses and SEIU members, in August 2010. The hospital initially said that 140 of those 195 employees put on notice would be laid off within 60 days. However, Lynch observed, all SEIU members who received a layoff notice were able to remain working for El Camino. He credited his union's bargaining unit for that outcome.


Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jan 12, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Why is union membership forced upon employees? If it's such a wonderful thing shouldn't we have the choice to subscribe, or not?

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 12, 2012 at 2:31 pm

SEIU is simply a joke. They are less interested in representing their members and more interested in pursuing their political agenda.

Having said that if the workers are stupid enough to vote to keep paying their hard earned money to these clowns, then it's on their heads.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm

@Steve from Sylvan Park.

You would be talking about a right to work state. Something that I doubt the People's Republic of California will ever become.

Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 12, 2012 at 4:23 pm

The few times I have had people at the hospital be rude or delivered bad service they ALWAYS proudly wear their SEIU buttons.
SEIU needs to keep collecting dues so they can continue to buy politicians and elections and true reform from ever coming to California.

Like this comment
Posted by Grim Reaper
a resident of The Crossings
on Jan 13, 2012 at 6:17 am

They reap what they sow. They cannot complain about paying dues now. They can't complain about working with someone who always breaks rules and then hides behind the union and never gets fired. They can't complain about anything. The hospital let the union in. The hospital let the reps run around the wards and badger employees and patients and patient families. The hospital let the reps get away with anything. The hospital might as well let the union officially run the hospital and save a few more dollars by getting rid of the administrators.

Like this comment
Posted by Long time employee
a resident of another community
on Jan 17, 2012 at 10:51 pm

I have worked at ECH for more than 30 years. The Union has been here for about 10 years. Before the union came here we went 2 years with no pay increases, some people took pay cuts, job descriptions were changed without consulting the workers, and new positions or shift changes were done without regard to seniority. The union brought us improved healthcare for ourselves and family. They improved our pay so that it is comparable to what other hospitals workers in the area get. We have representation at disciplinary hearings. I am a steward and have represented many employees at disciplinary hearings and I know that employees who make grievous or repeated mistakes do get fired. Seniority is respected when there are open positions. My dues are 2% of my base salary and worth every cent. If we allowed some members to not pay dues, we still are obligated to represent them. I love ECH, I am not a disgruntled employee, both my wife and myself have had surgeries and been hospitalized there, my son was born there. I am better off being represented by a healthcare union.

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of another community
on Jan 17, 2012 at 11:06 pm

I too am an El Camino Hospital employee. I gladly pay my dues simply because I get what I pay for. I was here before employees had a contract and I was here when employees were allowed to be a member or not be a member. Now when there is a disagreement between workers and a manager, the disagreement is resolved by looking it up in the contract. If my work is changed, I have a chance to talk about it and present my own ideas. When people could be a member or not they got the same benefit as me and didn’t pay for it.

Like this comment
Posted by W
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 30, 2012 at 11:41 am

I think that the point is simply this: Why are employees being forced to be a part of this Union? Shouldn't there be a choice? I thought this was America. Right or wrong, good or bad, difference of opinions...whatever the reasons employess should be given a choice to choose and decide for themselves. This is forceful payment of dues. No payment = no job. we all answer to SEIU now, not ECH.

Last point...someone do the math...where are all the Millions of dollars in dues going? Look it up.

Thank you for the article.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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