Kaiser vote pits union against union

In the biggest private-sector union vote since 1941, some 43,000 Kaiser Permanente employees began voting yesterday to determine which of two unions would represent them, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The employees face a choice between staying with Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, or its tiny rival spin-off, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, whose leaders broke away from SEIU early last year. Whichever union wins will get to collect an estimated $40 million in annual dues.

The stakes are high. If the smaller union wins, it could gain critical mass and become a major force in the healthcare industry and labor movement, experts say.

If SEIU is victorious, the two million member union could move beyond turmoil-filled years during which it clashed with other labor organizations whose members it coveted, the Times reports. According to an SEIU press release, a majority of Kaiser Permanente caregivers have pledged to vote for SEIU-UHW.

NUHW supporters say their rival puts organizational power over individual workers, the North Bay Business Journal reports, while SEIU advocates claim NUHW and its supporters undermine organized labor and jeopardize workers' collective bargaining power and the existing contract.

Kaiser employees, including medical assistants, respiratory therapists, medical records clerks and housekeepers, have until Oct. 4, to mail in their ballots, the North Bay Business Journal reports. About 300 Kaiser sites are participating in the vote.

To learn more:
- here's the SEIU press release
- read the Los Angeles Times article
- here's the North Bay Business Journal article