The board of the Service Employees International Union has decided to merge 240,000 members from three California locals into one mega-local representing nursing home workers and home health aides, making the yet-unnamed group the nation's second-largest SEIU branch.
Some members from San Jose-based Local 521 and Oakland-based United Healthcare Workers West will merge with all of Los Angeles-based Local 6434's members in the next 30 days, officials said Friday.
"What it does is allows them to have the strongest voice possible in Sacramento," said Mary Kay Henry, SEIU executive vice president. "We think it's long overdue because we need to focus our attention on the state fiscal crisis."
She said SEIU has been consolidating employees who do the same job into one local per state since 1996.
Some California healthcare workers have fought the merger, particularly members of UHW, which will lose 65,000 people -- about half its members -- to the new group. UHW leaders have called the move undemocratic. They had called for a boycott of a December advisory vote by SEIU that asked members whether they wanted to merge all healthcare workers or only long-term care workers into a single California local.
Less than one in 10 of the roughly 300,000 members polled responded, but those who did sided overwhelmingly with the more limited merger. UHW said 125,000 members of the three affected locals signed petitions and cards indicating they would boycott the vote.
On Friday, UHW officials sent a letter to SEIU saying that many UHW members want to disaffiliate with SEIU and that the international is required to give them a vote under its constitution.
"There is widespread and profound opposition within our membership to any efforts to dismember our local union or take away its rights of democratic governance," read a letter signed by 72 members of UHW's leadership.
SEIU officials accused the UHW officials of manufacturing the opposition through months of "scare tactics and misrepresentations to their members." They said that when they receive the letter, they will decide what to do.
SEIU has been considering taking over UHW entirely. It has held hearings into allegations that UHW's leaders misused dues, creating a secret war chest to fight the merger. UHW officials have denied any wrongdoing.