NLRB Judge Finds Kaiser Permanente Guilty of Violating the Law

by Leighton Woodhouse, NUHW on December 15, 2010

(Ed note: The harsh tone of the Administrative Law Judge’s ruling against Kaiser should bolster NUHW’s case for overturning the recent Kaiser election won by SEIU)

LOS ANGELES – Yesterday, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Judge William Schmidt announced that Kaiser Permanente brazenly violated federal labor law by withholding scheduled raises and tuition reimbursements from workers who voted to leave the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) earlier this year, and ordered immediate remedial action.

In the plainest of rebukes, Judge Schmidt referred to the “massive damage done” to workers’ rights by Kaiser, characterized the company’s justification for its actions as “lack(ing) merit” and “without legal foundation,” and called its cited legal precedents “misplaced.” Judge Schmidt ordered Kaiser to “immediately restore and apply” the scheduled wage increases plus interest, tuition reimbursement benefit, and steward training benefit provided under the workers’ prior union contract.

Judge Schmidt’s finding clearly demonstrates that the central argument of SEIU’s multimillion dollar campaign to prevent 43,500 Kaiser workers from joining NUHW was false.

In hundreds of thousands of mailers, leaflets and phone calls this summer, SEIU told Kaiser workers that they would lose their raises and benefits if they voted to join NUHW, specifically citing as evidence Kaiser’s refusal to honor its obligations to Kaiser-employed NUHW members stipulated in the predecessor union’s contract. It was precisely this conduct, trumpeted by SEIU in its campaign against NUHW, that Judge Schmidt found to be “so inherently destructive of the basic employee right under Section 7 to freely choose a bargaining representative.”

Judge Schmidt’s decision reaffirms what NUHW explained to Kaiser workers in response to SEIU’s false claims: “It is settled law that when employees are represented by a labor organization their employer may not make unilateral changes in their terms and conditions of employment, such as their wages.” If allowed to stand as law, Judge Schmidt argued, Kaiser’s position “would seriously impair, if not virtually eliminate as a practical matter, the fundamental right of employees under Section 7 to change their bargaining representative.”

Kaiser and SEIU shared a strong interest in abridging this fundamental right of Kaiser workers seeking to join NUHW, and Kaiser’s decision to withhold raises and benefits provided SEIU with its main argument for workers to remain under its representation.

Judge Schmidt further admonished Kaiser for its reckless abuse of the legal process, describing the company as belonging to a class of “non-compliant respondents who choose to appeal and appeal in order to avoid their duty to bargain under the Act until, finally, support for the employee representative is totally dissipated.”

Read the full decision here:

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