California Workers Fight Kaiser Job Cuts

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California health workers have given the giant Kaiser health corporation notice of strike action over 1,300 job cuts.

Trade unionists from Service Employees International Union (SEIU) United Healthcare Workers-West said: ‘Two locations, two crowds, one message: SEIU-UHW members will resist all attempts by Kaiser management to force us or our co-workers to leave the company against our will.

‘It’s now official; we will picket across the State to demonstrate our opposition to management’s plans.

‘At twin events this week held outside the Kaiser Regional Offices in Pasadena and Oakland, hundreds of workers joined their voices as one to support delegations that delivered the first in a series of 10-day notices.

‘The rallies took place one day after the votes were tallied in our statewide, facility-by-facility vote to authorise pickets.

‘The count was a landslide: 95 per cent of us approved the plan to picket at Kaiser facilities across the state in September.

‘SEIU-UHW members will picket over management’s delivery of 1,350 individual position-elimination notices and their failure to bargain with our union.

‘The first pickets will be held on Tuesday, September 1 at Kaiser Sunset and Walnut Creek, followed by pickets at Kaiser Panorama City and Santa Clara on Thursday, September 3. More pickets will be scheduled for the week of September 7 and beyond.

More than 150 Kaiser workers gathered on the sidewalk outside the Oakland Regional Office to show support for their union and opposition to management’s plans to cut thousands of jobs.

‘I am very unhappy that Kaiser wants to get rid of me, my husband and my sister,’ explained Parminder Bains, who works in Environmental Services (EVS) at Kaiser Morse Avenue in Sacramento.

‘We came today with the Union to tell management to stop the EVS job cuts.’ Parminder, her husband and sister Jasbir Kaur all received individual notifications from Kaiser.

From the bed of a Chevrolet pickup truck parked alongside busy Franklin Street, LaTasha Winslow-Beavers, who works in pharmacy at Kaiser Sacramento, spoke out for all on hand.

She said: ‘We came today to tell our management that we mean business. They are trying to cut jobs and that is not acceptable. We need to speak out loudly to make sure they hear us. Are you with me?’

The crowd thundered in response.

Tina Lynch, who works in EVS at Walnut Creek, took her turn at the microphone to speak out for the 21 of her co-workers who received individual notices.

‘How will they pay the rent if they lose their jobs? We just can’t stand by and let them be forced out. We need to tell Kaiser that we’ll do what it takes to keep our co-workers on the job,’ she declared.

After a half-hour of chanting, a delegation of Kaiser employees, including several who have received individual notifications, entered the offices and delivered the 10-day notices to Human Resources.

The delegation exited the office building to full-throated cheers.

‘Now we need to go back to our facilities, tell everyone about what happened today, and get them to come out to the pickets,’ Winslow-Beavers said as the event concluded. ‘I tell you what I told management: This is just the start of our fight to protect jobs.’

More than 100 Kaiser members gathered at Kaiser Walnut to stand in unity with their brothers and sisters who recently received letters stating that management wanted to eliminate their positions.

Members rallied and served notice to management that Kaiser members will ‘see you in September’ – on the picket line!

Before the rally began, Ardie Bowen, who works at Kaiser Orange, hugged friends and colleagues and talked about the shock and disbelief of workers who had received notices.

‘What today says to me is that our union is strong. We’re here and we’re vibrant, and Kaiser knows they must address our concerns,’ she said.

Denise Ellis-Lathan, from Kaiser Orange County, led the energetic, passionate rally, calling to the crowd of members from Kaiser facilities across Southern California, ‘You do not turn your back on partnership.’

A delegation of eight union members, including two long-time employees who received individual notices from management, delivered their own formal notice.

They went inside to tell Kaiser that angry workers will be holding informational picketing at Sunset and Panorama City. They returned to the crowd that had continued chanting in the courtyard below to strong approval.

‘I was notified last week my job was scheduled to be eliminated. I’ve always been there when Kaiser and our patients needed me,’ said Robert Lozano, who works at Kaiser Panorama City.

‘They made a half a billion in profit and now they’re telling us they can’t afford the staff who cares for Kaiser patients. That’s ridiculous.’

SEIU UHW-West members said: ‘In delivering the 10-day notices, SEIU-UHW members wanted to make sure that management understood just why we were there – and why we would be picketing Kaiser facilities in the coming weeks.’

They added that ‘we are here today to deliver two messages.’

The first read: ‘This is our formal notification that we intend to hold informational picketing at Kaiser healthcare facilities across California in the coming weeks.

‘We take this action to protest management’s decision to individually notify thousands of our fellow SEIU-UHW members that you intend to take them out of their current positions and potentially even force them to leave Kaiser.

‘Management has several options available to achieve its corporate goals without this drastic action – including using the voluntary separation incentive program that our union negotiated with you.’

The second message read: ‘We have deep concerns that Kaiser management’s recent actions undermine the principles of cooperation, communication and shared commitment that our Labour Management Partnership is based upon and that is central to ensuring that our members can continue to deliver the highest quality of care to our patients.

‘Management’s recent announcement that Kaiser had earned $620 million in the second quarter should have been good news for all of us.

‘But by sending out individual notices just days afterward, you have alarmed many of our members.

‘Additionally, we have yet to see how you are applying position cuts across all levels of the organisation, including management.

‘It is now up to you to take tangible steps to regain our trust and work cooperatively for the future.

‘We hereby submit our 10-day notices and will conduct our first picket on Sept. 1, 2009 at Kaiser Walnut Creek and Kaiser Sunset, followed two days later by an event at Kaiser Santa Clara and Kaiser Panorama City. Thank you.’

l On Tuesday, the union filed an unfair labour practice charge against Kaiser over its unilateral implementation of a workload increase of ten per cent for EVS employees in the Northern Region.

Management tried to increase the workload for EVS workers across Northern California in advance of its longer-range plan to cut staff positions.

The following day, hundreds of EVS workers marched on management at facilities across the region to protest the workload issue, telling management that they are concerned that too few workers cleaning too much hospital could lead to unsanitary, and unsafe, conditions for patients and staff.