Union creates health care arm

The Baltimore Sun

The Service Employees International Union, hoping to better coordinate its resources, organizing strategies and direction nationally, has created a new health care union.

SEIU is expected to launch the health care arm of the larger organization tomorrow in Baltimore. Leaders and members will meet until Sunday to discuss the new union, which is designed to better unify about 1 million health care members - including nurses and service workers at hospitals and nursing homes. The parent union has a total of 1.8 million members.

Dennis Rivera, chair of the new union called SEIU Healthcare, said yesterday that the 38 locals representing such workers across the country were in many ways fragmented with different names, slogans and identities.

Under the new structure, officials will pool financial and personnel resources as well as political agendas and ideas to increase membership, improve health care practices and promote universal health care coverage. Rivera said the new union's organizing budget will be about $100 million annually.

"By coordinating our work and having a unity of mission and purpose and program, where we hold each other accountable and assist each other, we could reach the goals we've set for ourselves," said Rivera, formerly president of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, which includes Massachusetts, New York, Maryland and Washington.

SEIU locals will retain their leaders as well as autonomy in local collective bargaining and politics.

Aid organizing

John Reid, executive vice president of 1199 SEIU's Maryland-D.C. Division, said the creation of a national health care union creates greater strength to organize. The move, Reid said, is similar to the decision by the locals representing Maryland and Washington health care workers to join the larger regional network two years ago.

"It has a big impact in terms of belonging to something bigger," Reid said.

The Maryland-D.C. Division has 10,000 members, including 4,500 in the Baltimore area. The union represents workers at Johns Hopkins, Sinai, Maryland General hospitals and Greater Baltimore Medical Center as well as nursing home staff.

Raise standards

"We could use our collective strength to organize more workers, create a better working environment and ... ultimately help push quality standards to a new level," said Quincey Gamble, 1199 SEIU's political director.


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