Friday, December 11, 2009

Out of Africa...back to Kaiser

Jason Campbell, long time SoCal Kaiser Professionals rep for UHW, is returning from his new gig in AFRICA, just to help the workers win a new union with NUHW.

Here is his letter to the members... It is long, but worth sharing.

Also, rumor has it the election will be scheduled right around the new year...


Hello, leaders and members of the professional chapters in southern California.

As many of you know, I have been working in Africa the last few months supporting various organizing drives in Nigeria, collective bargaining campaigns in Liberia, health and safety initiatives in the oil and gas sector, and budget advocacy work in the volatile Niger Delta. With great excitement, however, I am returning to southern California to assist in your efforts to join the National Union of Healthcare Workers!

I was honored and privileged to be your union representative for about three years up until the so-called “trusteeship” of our union on January 27, 2009. Despite the undemocratic takeover of our union, I had hoped to stay on and continue our efforts at advancing the professional practice issues of the chapters. That, however, was not an interest of the trustees. Instead, they demanded that I remove elected stewards and officers who failed to “move the trustee’s program”. I, of course, could not do that. Union staff should be accountable to members not the other way around. I, therefore, had no choice but to resign. But now we have the opportunity to take our union back!

Labor unions should be democratic organizations, accountable to their members, and where members play an active role in the crucial decisions that affect them. As Elaine Bernard, the Executive Director of the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program, writes, “Organizing is important, but it also needs to be more than signing up new members. Rather, the future of unions and their power rests with informed, committed membership who understands that they are the union and that the power of the union rests with them.” (Bernard, Elaine. “The State of US Labor & Building Union Power,” Democratic Left, Fall 2008). I became acquainted with Dr. Bernard and developed an understanding of the importance of union governance while earning my master’s degree at Harvard University. A body of research shows that top-down, corporate governance structures will not bring about sustainable gains for workers. Instead, unions need bottom-up, democratic governance structures that engage and empower workers to improve their lives and workplaces.

Our experience with SEIU since the trusteeship is a case in point. At Kaiser, stewards and officers were removed, our chapter funds were seized, and the membership did not get to vote on agreements. The result: SEIU “trustees” agreed to cuts in our pension, eroded the employment and income security agreement, and severely damaged the state of the partnership (recall the Day of Learnings where SEIU staffers Beka Langen and Stewart Kocivar tried to block providers from participating in discussions about patient care issues).

We now, however, have the opportunity to take our union back by certifying NUHW. We will overcome SEIU’s campaign of misinformation and fear-mongering. Our victory will show Kaiser that we demand a real partnership, where frontline employees are actively involved in efforts to improve patient care and raise the standards of our contracts – rather than being a passive revenue source to a corporate union where “partnership” means top-down, backroom deals that erode our standards, limit our voice, disrespect our professions, and harm our patients.

In certifying NUHW, we will protect the wages and benefits we fought to win and our autonomy as professional chapters will be restored. We will once again work with experienced negotiators that bargained with Kaiser for years and helped us win what we have now, and accountability will be returned with elected members at the table and membership votes on agreements.

I feel honored and privileged to be involved with these efforts and working with you all again.


Jason Campbell
Volunteer Organizer
National Union of Healthcare Workers