Health Service Union Locals Merge To Form One Local
Representatives of the Service Employees International Union on Tuesday announced a merger between two locals for health care workers to create the SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, a statewide, 130,000-member organization, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reports (Hopkins, Long Beach Press-Telegram, 12/15).
The new union combines Los Angeles-based Local 399 with Oakland-based Local 250 to create the largest union local in the western United States, the Sacramento Bee reports. The new local will be based in Oakland.
In voting that ended Dec. 11, 91% of Local 250 members and 98% of Local 399 members endorsed the merger (Osterman, Sacramento Bee, 12/16).
The Los Angeles Times reports that the merger "seek[s] to match consolidation in the health care industry" and that "the merger highlights long-standing differences in wages and benefits between the higher-paid workers in Northern California, where the industry is more densely unionized, and lower-paid workers in Southern California" (Cleeland, Los Angeles Times, 12/16).
Health care unions "already exert considerable sway" in the state because of shortages in essential occupations, the Bee reports (Sacramento Bee, 12/16).
Sal Rosselli, president of the new local and a former director of Local 250, said, "This will be so much more efficient and effective, to be able to speak with one voice at the bargaining table."
Spokespersons for Tenet Healthcare, Kaiser Permanente and Catholic Healthcare West -- the three largest employers of the merged local's members -- said they expect good relations with the new union (Los Angeles Times, 12/16).
However, Sutter Health spokesperson Karen Garner said the union "is concentrating on building membership rather than getting local hospital employees the contracts they deserve." According to the Bee, Sutter is undergoing "tense" negotiations with Local 250 over staffing at eight hospitals.
Joanne Spetz, a health care economist with the nursing school at the University of California-San Francisco, said, "It absolutely makes sense for unions" to merge because "first, insurance companies began merging. Then hospitals did the same, saying they needed to increase their bargaining power against the insurers."
Nelson Lichtenstein -- a director at the Center for Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California-Santa Barbara -- said, "When you have a local union that's headquartered 500 miles away, something can be lost" (Sacramento Bee, 12/16).