Union battle heats up at Sonoma County hospitals

Sonoma County?s three big hospitals are becoming battlegrounds in a war that has erupted between the powerful Service Employees International Union and a breakaway union that says it has the support of thousands of local health care workers.

The rival union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, commonly referred to as NUHW, was formed by leaders from an Oakland-based healthcare workers? local affiliated with SEIU.

The service employees union has begun sending in representatives from other regions to help stem the tide of defectors taking up the banner of the competing labor group.

Gumecindo Gonzales, a phlebotomist and NUHW supporter who has been part of the organizing effort at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital for five years, said he?s getting ready for an onslaught of SEIU troops.

?They?re at the post right now with all these other union organizers from other states,? said Gonzales, who once supported the Oakland group, the United Healthcare Workers West, SEIU?s second-largest California local.

Gonzales, a member of a statewide committee organizing workers at St. Joseph Health System facilities, said NUHW organizers are seeking to represent 750 non-nursing positions at Memorial that that include medical technicians and cleaning and support staff.

SEIU officials say Gonzales, along with former organizers and current stewards from the Oakland local, is waging a campaign to undermine SEIU?s representation in Sonoma County. The campaign, they say, threatens existing union contracts at Sutter Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente Medical Center and sets back years of organizing efforts at Memorial Hospital.

?The process is in place for stewards who do not support this union to not remain in this union,? said Pete Janhunen, a spokesman for the SEIU local.

?The idea that people want to found a union by destroying a union and preventing workers from negotiating a positive contract is absurd,? he said.

On Wednesday, the SEIU-affiliated UHW got a boost from the National Labor Relations Board, which dismissed a petition by the breakaway union to decertify SEIU?s representation of more than 48,000 caregivers at Kaiser Permanente facilities.

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