Happy Holidays: Caregivers at Ten Kindred Healthcare Nursing Homes Win Raises, Organizing Rights, and A Voice to Improve Care

Tuesday, December 23, 2008 General News
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United Healthcare Workers' master agreement shows that workers' unity--not top-down deals--is how working people win in today's economy

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- More than 900 caregivers at ten nursing homes in Northern California will have a happy holiday after all, after staying united through nearly ten months of negotiations with Kindred Healthcare. On Friday, members of United Healthcare Workers (UHW) won a breakthrough three-year agreement that creates quality care committees to strengthen workers' voice to advocate for their residents, provides substantial raises, and protects the right to organize for workers at ten non-union facilities.

"Quality care committees are unprecedented in the nursing home industry," said Emma Penisini, a certified nursing assistant for eight years at Pacific Coast Care Center in Salinas. "Everyone's so excited about this agreement. We all work hard to provide the best care we can, and now we have a stronger voice to make our nursing homes better for the people who need our care."

The agreement includes:

This victory shows that UHW's strategy of member involvement and democracy is superior to the top-down "Alliance" strategy advocated by national SEIU President Andy Stern. Recent deals SEIU International has made with nursing homes in Southern California do not include many key standards won by UHW members, including wage scales, defined-benefit pension plans, successorship protections, a code of conduct for organizing non-union workers, and quality care committees to give workers a direct voice in resident care.

In the last five months, UHW members have won contracts with Mariner, Sava, Horizon West, and now Kindred Healthcare that protect workers' right to form a union at 32 non-union nursing homes -- far more than the number of homes UHW was allowed to organize under the national union's failed Alliance strategy. Nursing home workers who join together in UHW will have full collective bargaining rights, unlike workers enrolled into "template agreements" under the Alliance model.

Despite caregivers' unprecedented gains as members of UHW, national SEIU officials are preparing to force nursing home and homecare workers out of UHW against their will through a forced merger of local unions. The forced merger would move caregivers into a new union run by appointees accountable to Stern who would pursue the national union's "Alliance" strategy that has resulted in inferior contracts. A recent SEIU "advisory vote" asked members to choose between two similar merger options with no way to reject the merger entirely. Caregivers boycotted the election and filed 125,000 protests, while only 28,000 votes were cast -- less than ten percent of eligible voters.

"In hard economic times, working people get the short end of the stick if we don't stick together," said Maria Samuel, an elected member of UHW's executive board, a shop steward, and a certified nursing assistant for 27 years at Golden Gate Healthcare Center in San Francisco. "The last thing we need is more top-down deals that shut us out of important decisions. We're winning great contracts in UHW because healthcare workers are involved in every decision our union makes."

Workers at nine of the ten Kindred Healthcare facilities will vote on the agreement Monday and Tuesday. Workers at Pacific Coast Care Center in Salinas ratified an identical agreement last Friday. The contract takes effect upon ratification and will cover the following facilities:

With more than 150,000 members, SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West is the fastest-growing healthcare union in the United States. We represent healthcare workers in all job classifications and all healthcare settings, including hospitals, homecare, nursing homes and clinics. Our mission is to achieve high-quality healthcare for all. www.seiu-uhw.org

-- Quality of Care committees to improve the quality of care for residents, with third-party mediation if necessary. -- Substantial wage increases, with certified nursing assistants averaging more than $2.33 an hour more over the three year term. -- Health insurance improvements that will bring all Kindred workers close to 95% employer contribution for premiums -- Protection for workers at Kindred's ten non-union nursing homes in California to have a free choice to form a union. -- Successorship protection that guarantees recognition of caregivers' union and their contract if facilities are sold -- Subcontracting protection -- Daily cancellation protection -- Reopener in the second year to improve pension benefits

SOURCE SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West

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