AFL-CIO convention avoids healthcare union’s protests

LOS ANGELES — The AFL-CIO narrowly avoided an embarrassing union-led protest by canceling convention events that spotlighted a healthcare company. 

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The National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) was planning to protest events highlighting Kaiser Permanente, scheduled for Sunday and Monday this week in Los Angeles. But when John Borsos, the union's secretary-treasurer, stepped off his flight from Sacramento, Calif., he didn’t find much to rage against.

AFL-CIO officials said Sunday that the events had been removed from the convention schedule.

“We were planning on picketing and leafleting the convention in protest of the events,” Borsos said. “My flight was a 10:40 a.m. flight from Sacramento and by the time I got here [to Los Angeles], the AFL-CIO leadership had yanked them off the agenda.”

The NUHW is locked in a bitter struggle with the healthcare company.

In a Sept. 6 letter sent to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, obtained by The Hill, NUHW leaders said they were “alarmed to learn that the AFL-CIO will be featuring Kaiser Permanente and its trademarked ‘Instant Recess’ during the AFL-CIO’s upcoming convention in Los Angeles, in effect holding Kaiser up as a model employer.”

“Multiple affiliates of the AFL-CIO are currently in the middle of an epic struggle at Kaiser to defend standards that workers have fought decades to establish. We again request that you and the rest of the AFL-CIO stand with us and not with this multi-billion dollar HMO,” said NUHW officials in the letter.

Listed in the AFL-CIO convention program were “Instant Recess” events — supposedly wellness programs for convention attendees and organized by “Kaiser Permanente’s Labor Management Partnership.”

“This is the same employer that has been fined by the state for $4 million for patient care violations. ... They are also at the bargaining table with us trying to demand the elimination of defined benefit pension plans and health plans for retirees,” Borsos said. “Hardly the kind of employer that should be honored by labor.”

Asked why Kaiser was given such prominence at the convention, Trumka said Sunday that the company hasn’t been perfect with all workers.

“First of all, there has been a Kaiser Permanente partnership for some time and many of the unions have worked through that. Does that mean it's perfect and there aren't problems? No, it doesn't mean that,” Trumka said.

The labor federation chief then told a reporter that the Kaiser events were no longer happening.

“Your information is dated. Kaiser won't be here at this convention,” Trumka said.

Kaiser has worked with other unions and employs members from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a powerful AFL-CIO affiliate.

An AFL-CIO official confirmed that the Kaiser Permanente events were removed from the schedule, but didn’t indicate why.

A Kaiser Permanente spokeswoman didn’t offer comment on the company’s convention events being canceled by press time.

“We think the labor movement should build alliances with patients and workers and not with bosses like Kaiser,” Borsos said. “We appreciate the AFL-CIO leadership giving Kaiser the timeout it deserves for bad behavior.”