It’s been a year of labor feuds, culminating in
‘s recent decision to trustee
United Healthcare Workers West
, a mighty, militant California local, and a move by
, the garment workers union, to break off from
. Then in mid-March, white flags shot up in one of the hottest of these wars between workers.
Just months ago, top officials at SEIU, the massive service employees union that represents hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers, tended to spit when they spoke about the
California Nurses Association
(CNA), calling it “elitists” (for organizing only nurses) and antiunion “reactionaries” (for trying to defeat SEIU organizing drives in hospitals where CNA wanted the nurses for itself). CNA director
Rose Ann DeMoro
, poised to head the largest national nurses’ organization in history, bitterly denounced SEIU’s “business unionism,” which turned workers into “commodities” and gave away the farm to employers and politicians on patient-to-staff ratios and healthcare reform. Yet on March 19, the two unions, which had gone toe-to-toe in hospitals in Ohio and Nevada, announced a joint organizing accord. Now they’ll go after nonunion hospitals together, with CNA organizing the nurses and SEIU the rest of the healthcare staff.
“The election of Barack Obama and the opportunity to transform our healthcare system, combined with the opportunity to give more healthcare workers a voice through passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), seems so profound, such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that it made the leadership of both organizations feel there were more significant things to do than continue our competition,” SEIU president
told The Nation.
Major organizing targets include the nation’s network of Catholic hospitals, as well as the two biggest for-profit hospital chains,
Hospital Corporation of America
, both of which are concentrated in the right-to-work South. The agreement with SEIU, DeMoro said, is “a game changer.” If EFCA passes too, “it’s almost unimaginable what’s possible,” she added. “I can see hundreds of thousands of nurses and other healthcare workers organized in a very short period of time.”
As for their dispute over healthcare reform–the CNA is an uncompromising voice for single-payer, while SEIU has a record of supporting insurance company-friendly compromises–the two sides say they will campaign side by side for measures that encourage single-payer at the state level, while on Capitol Hill, as Obama’s reform effort takes shape, they’ll simply agree to disagree.