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New union wins bid to represent healthcare workers at USC University Hospital

A new union battling the giant Service Employees International Union for the loyalty of healthcare workers throughout California has won a fiercely fought election at USC University Hospital in Los Angeles.

In two days of voting this week, the National Union of Healthcare Workers triumphed in its bid to represent more than 600 technicians, respiratory therapists and other employees at the USC-owned hospital, said the National Labor Relations Board, which oversaw the balloting.

The vote was 393 for the National Union of Healthcare Workers to 122 for no union, the only other option, said James Small, a regional labor board director in Los Angeles.

A smaller hospital unit of 83 pharmacists, social workers and others opted by a four-vote margin for the no-union option, the board said.

The two sides now have a week to file objections to the election before results are officially certified. The National Union of Healthcare Workers said it plans to challenge the loss in the smaller unit.

In earlier balloting, a group of 55 food service workers at the hospital had already voted to affiliate with the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

The campaign at USC University Hospital was a heated contest in which union sympathizers — including some university faculty and students — alleged  that USC management retaliated improperly against union supporters. USC denied any wrongdoing and said it hired an Ohio-based consultant to help managers avoid violating labor laws. Union supporters called the consultant a well-known union-busting outfit.

The incumbent Service Employees International Union, which had previously represented the workers, pulled out of the election, citing alleged harassment by management. The rival National Union of Healthcare Workers accused the Service Employees International Union of urging its former members to vote for no union — an allegation denied by the Service Employees International Union, one of the nation’s largest unions with some 2 million members.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers, founded by breakaway former Service Employees International Union leaders, is attempting to woo away tens of thousands of Service Employees International Union members at hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities throughout California.

Both sides say they are winning what has been a bruising 18-month fight for the support of the state's unionized health care workers. The National Union of Healthcare Workers calls the Service Employees International Union undemocratic and non-responsive. The Service Employees International Union says the breakaway faction’s leaders were fired for financial improprieties and other mismanagement and cannot be trusted.

Next month, National Union of Healthcare Workers plans to file petitions seeking to convince tens of thousands of  Kaiser Permanente statewide workers to switch from the Service Employees International Union to the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

On Friday, the Service Employees International Union announced that it had reached a tentative agreement on a new two-year contract for 96,000 Kaiser Permanente workers nationwide, half of them in California. The tentative deal, scheduled to be voted on next month, provides for 3% raises in each year of the agreement, maintains existing health-care benefits and protects job security, the Service Employees International Union said.

--Patrick J. McDonnell


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