Switching to solid ground

Healthcare workers at Alta Bates will be switching to new union for stronger benefits

Whether it’s Alta Bates Summit Hospital rising above Ashby and Telegraph, or the Herrick Campus serving psychiatric patients, or the towering complex of health facilities at the Summit Campus near Downtown Oakland, East Bay residents are intimately familiar with Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.

These are hospitals where our children are born and our loved ones receive care.  Every day, more than 1,100 union health care workers help to deliver that care.

The history of health care workers’ struggle to win fair contracts, better working conditions and patient protections at Alta Bates is long. Over decades of struggle, we’ve won victories for ourselves and our patients, despite facing an anti-union employer.

Our victories have had a profound impact on our communities in the East Bay. Health care workers have won fair wages, health benefits for our families, a secure retirement and dignity and respect on the job.

Last week, that history entered a new chapter.

A supermajority of the health care workers at Alta Bates have submitted petitions to the government to leave our current union, SEIU-UHW Healthcare Workers West and to join the Nation Union of Healthcare Workers, or NUHW, a new union that we founded and which health care workers control.

To some long-time Bay Area residents, the name SEIU-UHW may invoke images of a militant, progressive labor union. But we can tell you that it is no longer the organization it was in decades past.

In 2009, officials in Washington, D.C. took over our union and gutted the principles on which it was run. Since the takeover of our union, health care workers have paid the price. Every aspect of our union, and the important victories we won, has taken a turn for the worse.

Under SEIU-UHW we now have less job security, our health benefits have been cut, we have fewer protections on the job and, in the latest round of bargaining, SEIU-UHW even agreed to allow our employer to outsource nearly 100 union healthcare workers’ jobs from the East Bay and move them out of state.

At Alta Bates, health care workers are saying, “Enough!” We’re exercising our right to demand an election to leave SEIU-UHW and to join NUHW, a new union that has won contract victories from Los Angeles to Santa Rosa to Salinas. NUHW may be a new name to some of you, but we can tell you that the principles which guide it are not.

NUHW is a member-led health care workers’ union, committed to the philosophy that there is no limit to empowering workers. As a direct result of that philosophy, workers in NUHW have maintained strong benefits while winning raises and protecting our patients. NUHW is our choice at Alta Bates.

Keesha Johnson works at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland.

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