I am sitting at a table in the Summit Hospital cafeteria in Oakland, California. Beverly Griffith, a spirited African-American grandparent who worked for 32 years in the Summit EVS (Housekeeping) department, taps my arm. “See that security guard at the table? He’s watching us. SEIU gets Security to follow me.”
I think to myself. How many grandmothers are security risks? So I ask: “Why would anyone follow you?”
“It’s harassment,” she insists. “I’m involved in the NUHW campaign to decertify SEIU. The election between these two unions takes place January 19th. Both management and SEIU are working together to make employees who converse with me feel uncomfortable.”
“Well,” I say, “harassment is not uncommon in contentious union elections.” She thought I was dismissive.
“No. No. This isn’t just some local tiff. It’s not about me. It’s not about overzealous security guards. It’s about Employer union-busting. Summit is rigging the outcome of the election, trying to make sure SEIU defeats us January 19th.”
Don Roberts, a transporter who has worked at Summit for 24 years, corroborated Beverly’s complaint. “Every time you see Bev, there’s a security guard around her. The guards follow me and they watch me, too. Yesterday I was on the first floor. A guard watched me. Then I went up to the third floor. There he was again. Summit even puts up security video cameras in the areas where the pro-NUHW people congregate. We are under constant surveillance.”
Oscar Medina, an army vet and a single father, works as a transporter at Summit. “One guard told me straight out that Summit Security is instructed to watch Beverly and her friends. I have nothing against the guards. They do what they’re told, and they don’t even have a union.”
So what’s the evidence that union-busting (in the middle of a union election) is official Summit policy? “Oh yeah, baby, it’s a top-down thing.” Suddenly, Oscar pulled out a Summit management memo, (along with Summit e-mails to employees, containing vote influencing threats that an NUHW victory could mean loss of benefits.) I don’t know how the internal document became public. (Unless it was released by Wikileaks.) It was signed by Monty Byrd June 26, 2009. “To Alta Bates Summit Medical Center Security Staff: Let me make this as clear as possible. Local 250 SEIU-UHW reps are allowed to conduct business as normal. NUHW--Beverly Griffith/ Joslyn and company are not allowed to conduct business on property, but we have not had very much luck with police support.” (I later learned why there is friction between the Oakland Police and Summit.)
The memo continues, “We must make contact with anyone from NUHW that appears to be conducting business in any of the medical center buildings. We must ask them to stop conducting business and leave.”
“If they refuse, contact appropriate police departments requesting that the person(s) be removed.”
“This is of a high level of importance and it looks like we will be dealing with this group for a while.”
Clearly, the experiences of Beverly, Don, Oscar (along with other employees who declined to publish their names) are not isolated incidents. The guards follow orders from the top. Summit has instituted a lockout of one union in order to facilitate the victory of the other.
Employers are required by law to remain neutral in union elections. They are also required to respect the right of all employees to carry out union activity in non-working areas on their own time. In practice, Summit instructions flout the laws that, as I understand them, protect the rights of labor.
Summit’s use of the Oakland Police at taxpayer expense to sway an election in favor of management and SEIU is particularly disturbing.
On December 29th, I returned to the cafeteria to conduct my final interviews about Summit interference in the decertification election. Employees were sitting at a table, talking quietly with Sal Rosselli, interim president of NUHW. He asked questions, and he answered questions. At a second table, members of SEIU and NUHW debated union issues quietly. It was comforting to see civil democracy in practice.
However, true to the instructions in the memo, management called the Oakland Police. All without cause. As four officers arrived, the affable Sergeant talked with the guards. Cops are trained to assess situations quickly. She realized in seconds there was no problem, no argument, no fight, not even a loud voice. Summit, it appeared, used the police, not to keep the peace, but to stink-bomb the pro-union climate in the cafeteria. Cops are obligated to respond to calls, even when employers cry wolf. But the Sergeant seemed irked by the misuse of her precious skills and time. The officers left quickly. Cops don’t like to be used. No doubt that is why the Summit memo states: “We have not had very much luck with police support.”
In a nutshell, the situation at Summit boils down to this: one union is excluded from the workplace, or is driven into corners and shadows through systematic intimidation. The very presence of police at union discussions is itself a deterrent. Summit’s favored union, SEIU, receives free access to the campus, in accordance with the instructions in the official memo.
Today the Summit facility is inundated with well-paid SEIU staff, some flown in from out of state at member expense. The paid lobbyists, outsiders, never worked at Summit.
In contrast to SEIU privileges, Beverly Griffith and Don Roberts, who gave decades of their lives to the Summit healthcare community, are met with armed police when they dare to distribute flyers, or carry on normal pro-union discussions. And now Oakland Police and taxpayers are sucked into the fray.
Clearly, the NLRB, which oversees elections, is losing control of due process at Summit, Oakland.
As I left the cafeteria, I looked back. The police were gone. Still, there were the two security guards, their arms folded high on their chests like caricatures from Orwell’s 1984, staring down at NUHW supporters. At the table, like a heroic civil rights activist at a lunch counter in 1960, was Grandma Bev, undaunted and composed in face of outrageous provocations from the union-busting Summit/SEIU alliance.