Tuesday, May 20, 2008 | 2 a.m.
- CNA tips status quo, but doesn’t oust SEIU (5-09-2008)
- Nurses unions’ showdown starts today (5-06-2008)
- Labor law broken during SEIU election, report says (4-17-2008)
The Service Employees International Union is challenging the results of a recent union election in which the rival California Nurses Association fell just short of the majority vote needed to take over representation of more than 1,000 nurses at three St. Rose Dominican hospitals here.
The practical effect of the objection to the election — which could delay another election for months — could be good for the SEIU.
First, it gives the SEIU time to try to persuade nurses to stick with their current union. More important, it might also give the SEIU enough time to negotiate an improved contract for St. Rose workers — a union’s best weapon.
The stakes already are high for SEIU Nevada, which has suffered a number of recent setbacks, including a Labor Department investigation of a contested union officer election last year and a defeat in a race against the CNA to represent 500 nurses at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno.
The most recent blow came this month, when registered nurses at St. Rose’s three Southern Nevada hospitals voted in greater numbers to join the CNA rather than retain the SEIU. Neither union won, however, because a small number of nurses voted for neither union and another six votes were contested. That prevented either side from reaching more than 50 percent, the threshold set by federal labor law.
Assuming the contested votes don’t sway the results, the two unions likely would have faced off again soon in a runoff election, this time without the “no union” option on the ballot.
But the SEIU’s objection, filed late last week, will probably prevent another election from taking place soon. Labor experts say such objections usually take several months to resolve and can be drawn out for more than a year.
Among other allegations, the objection says Catholic Healthcare West, owner of the St. Rose chain, gave the CNA preferential access to break rooms and bulletin boards. CNA officials called the objection a stall tactic and the accusations baseless, and St. Rose officials insist they created a fair and impartial environment for both unions.
Though a ruling in favor of the SEIU might give it some ammunition against its competition, it won’t change the process much. Another election will occur regardless of the objection’s outcome, the only difference being whether the “no union” option will again appear on the ballot; it will if the protest is upheld.
The delay itself — not the outcome — could be a boon for the SEIU, especially if it can hash out a better contract with St. Rose before facing the CNA again.
“This gives them a chance to campaign and push those people who might be on the fence, but it also gives them a chance to negotiate a good contract,” said David Hames, an associate professor of management at UNLV who specializes in labor relations. “It might be a campaign tactic and a very successful one.”
The SEIU and management at St. Rose had started negotiating a new contract when the CNA petitioned the federal labor board for an election. Those negotiations were put on hold pending the election, with the exception of one negotiating session just after the election.
Now the SEIU is eager to return to the bargaining table.
“The goal for the workers and hospitals is absolutely a standard-setting contract,” said Hilary Haycock, spokeswoman for SEIU Nevada.
The SEIU, which represents 17,500 health care and public sector workers in Nevada, has announced an aggressive agenda that includes higher wages, enforceable staffing ratios for ancillary staff, elimination of last-minute shift cancellations and the resolution of a health insurance dispute. The CNA also has used some of those issues, particularly the insurance dispute, as rallying points in its campaign.
The union could play hardball on those issues, especially with representation of roughly 1,100 nurses on the line.
St. Rose officials aren’t saying whether they plan to return to the table amid the labor turmoil.
“I think that’s a conversation we will have to have with the SEIU,” said Andy North, a St. Rose spokesman.