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July 24, 2014

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Next target: UMC

With a California group’s bid to wrest nurses’ union representation at St. Rose hospitals from SEIU tied up, the union turns to University Medical Center, where SEIU has two years to go.

The California Nurses Association, unsuccessful so far in pushing aside the powerful Service Employees International Union as the preferred organizer of nurses in Southern Nevada, has set a new goal: to unseat the SEIU at University Medical Center.

And it’s allowing itself plenty of time to muster its attack. The UMC contract with the SEIU, which represents 17,500 health care and public-sector workers statewide, has another two years to run.

The early organizing effort suggests the battle to represent Nevada’s nurses isn’t likely to end soon, and that Nevada is shaping up as a battleground state in the nurses association’s national feud with the SEIU, the country’s largest union.

The smaller, more militant California-based union says the SEIU has traded away higher contract standards to win organizing agreements with anti-union employers. The SEIU counters that its contracts have set the bar in the health care industry in right-to-work states and that increasing its ranks will result in more clout.

The California Nurses Association, which represents 80,000 nurses nationwide, nearly poached 1,100 registered nurses from the SEIU during an election last month at three St. Rose Dominican hospitals. The union earned more votes than the SEIU, but failed to garner the required majority because a few nurses voted for no union.

That contest is now bogged down in legal wrangling after the SEIU filed objections and unfair labor practice charges against Catholic Healthcare West, which owns the St. Rose chain.

Another election is likely, but the California Nurses Association is not standing idly on the sidelines.

The insurgent union sent organizers into UMC last week, targeted the hospital with fliers and is mailing literature to nurses at home.

Its efforts come two years before it could actually unseat the SEIU at the county-run hospital. The incumbent union’s contract doesn’t expire until mid-2010, and labor law prevents another union from forcing an election until shortly before an existing contract expires.

Labor experts say unions often wage long campaigns to build support in a workplace.

“You can almost have a de facto CNA if they win the loyalty of the people and bide their time until the moment comes,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian and director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “The main thing is, do they have a group of people who will switch their loyalties?”

Several UMC nurses are assisting the California group’s efforts, and there are other indications the hospital might be ripe for a challenge.

The SEIU represents 3,579 workers at UMC, 1,253 of whom are registered nurses, according to the hospital. Because Nevada is a right-to-work state, those represented by a union aren’t required to be members and pay dues. If membership is a sign of satisfaction, then the California Nurses Association may be walking onto fertile ground: Only 612 of UMC’s registered nurses — or 49 percent — are SEIU members.

SEIU Nevada spokeswoman Hilary Haycock denounced the nurses association’s efforts at UMC.

“It’s just another example of their refusal to go out and organize nurses who don’t have a union,” Haycock said. “It’s raiding and it’s inappropriate union behavior when there are millions of nurses across the country that could use the help of a union to raise standards in their hospital.”

The nurses association counters that the SEIU also is seeking to represent workers across the country who already have a union. In Arizona, for example, the SEIU is trying to replace the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as the collective bargaining representative of state workers.

“We hear a lot of moralizing from SEIU about raiding,” said Chuck Idelson, spokesman for the California Nurses Association. “There is no union in the United States that engages in more raids than the service union.”

Haycock said she could speak only for the SEIU in Nevada.

“We haven’t raided anyone,” she said. “We’re opposed to raiding.”

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