United States District Court, N.D. California
NATIONAL UNION OF HEALTHCARE WORKERS; SONIA ASKEW; ROBIN BLAKE; LISA ENGLES; DANIELLE ESTRADA; ANGELA GLASPER; ROBERT HERNANDEZ; DAVID MALLON; TURUSEW WILSON and GEORGE WONG, Plaintiffs,
KAISER FOUNDATION HEALTH PLAN, INC.; KAISER FOUNDATION HOSPITALS; THE PERMANENTE MEDICAL GROUP, INC; SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PERMANENTE MEDICAL GROUP, Defendants
For National Union of Healthcare Workers, Lisa Engles, Danielle Estrada, Angela Glasper, George Wong, Plaintiffs: Benjamin Jacob Siegel, LEAD ATTORNEY, Siegel and LeWitter, Oakland, CA; Jean Roche Krasilnikoff, Jonathan H. Siegel, Latika Moti Malkani, Siegel LeWitter Malkani, Oakland, CA.
For Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc., Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, The Permanente Medical Group, Inc., Southern California Permanente Medical Group, Defendants, Counter-claimants: Alicia Cabeceira Anderson, Michael Paul Curtis, Michael Rao Lindsay, Nixon Peabody LLP, Los Angeles, CA; Christopher David Baker, Baker Law Practice, San Francisco, CA.
For SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (" UHW-W" ), Miscellaneous: Bruce A. Harland, Weinberg Roger & Rosenfeld, A Professional Corporation, Alameda, CA.
For National Union of Healthcare Workers, Counter-defendant: Benjamin Jacob Siegel, LEAD ATTORNEY, Siegel and LeWitter, Oakland, CA; Jonathan H. Siegel, Latika Moti Malkani, Siegel LeWitter Malkani, Oakland, CA.
WILLIAM ALSUP, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Posed is a question of first impression under the Labor Management Relations Act, namely under what circumstances, if any, an employer may continue paying benefits for employees given leave to go work for the incumbent union against a rival union in a representation election. Defendants move for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, and in light of genuine issues of material fact, the motion is Denied.
Amid internal disputes over union governance, some officers of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers broke away and formed a rival union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (" NUHW" ). Four years of court battles have ensued. This suit is one. See also SEIU v. SEIU-UHW, No. C 09-00404 WHA (N.D. Cal. 2010), aff'd sub nom. SEIU v. NUHW, No. 10-16549 (9th Cir. 2013).
The main question for resolution is under what circumstances, if any, an employer violates Section 302 of the Labor Management Relations Act by paying benefits (but not wages) to and allowing time to accrue toward retirement for union representatives engaged in campaign activities against a rival union in a union representation election.
Defendants Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, The Permanente Medical Group, Inc., and Southern California Permanente Medical Group (all " Kaiser" ) were (and still are) parties to a collective bargaining agreement with Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers (" SEIU-UHW" ). That agreement required Kaiser to continue to provide benefits for " lost-timers." Lost-timers were regular Kaiser employees who became paid staff members of the union after requesting up to a one-year unpaid leave of absence from Kaiser to " conduct union business" (Diaz Decl. ¶ 3; Diaz Exh. C at 123). Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, Kaiser continued to provide these lost-timers' benefits and accrued leave (but not wages) during time spent working full-time for the union.
While the lost-timer provision did not define " union business," a trier of fact could reasonably conclude that the intent of the parties negotiating the collective bargaining agreement was that the work would be restricted to traditional contract administration and joint labor-management activities (Malkani Exh. 1 at 107-112). From 2005 to 2009, for example, the scope of duties was limited to work on joint union-Kaiser projects, under the supervision of Kaiser, not SEIU-UHW, and in the interests of Kaiser, not solely SEIU-UHW ( id. at 42-43, 90, 108-12). Significantly, no lost-timer ever engaged in campaigning for SEIU-UHW until Kaiser released employees to campaign for SEIU-UHW during SEIU-UHW's campaign against NUHW in 2010. When a few employees were earlier released to work on the 2008 United States presidential campaign, Kaiser did not pay their benefits while on leave ( id. at 93). So by custom and usage, a good argument can be made (and is made) that the intended scope of the lost-timers provision was not meant to be expansive and the number on such leave would be few ( id. at 80-81).
In 2009, however, a group of former officers of SEIU-UHW broke away and formed a rival union, NUHW. In 2010, the National Labor Relations Board ordered a union representation election. Following several objections filed by NUHW, the Board set aside the election results and set a re-run election between SEIU-UHW and NUHW to commence in May 2013 (Dkt. No. 100).
During SEIU-UHW's representation campaigns against NUHW, SEIU-UHW used many more employees on lost-time from Kaiser to campaign against the upstart rival. Those employees continued to receive benefits from Kaiser (but not wages) while working for the old union to stave off the new one. Kaiser admits that there were a total of seven lost-timers working for the union in 2009, a year before the election (Cordova Decl. ¶ 8; Scannel Decl. ¶ 9). Kaiser further admits
that number grew to forty-five in 2010, the election year, but argues that the growth had to do with reasons in addition to the election, such as a new leadership at SEIU-UHW that lacked the staffing to " resolv[e] grievances . . . handl[e] disputes" and perform the " day to day operation of the [collective bargaining agreement]" ( ibid. ; Dkt. No. 95, Exh. B at 2699).
The new rival union, our plaintiff herein, claims the actual increase was even more dramatic. It submits evidence that at least 160 lost-timers were operating for SEIU-UHW during the 2010 election period (Siegel Decl. ¶ 6; Malkani Exh. 3). NUHW claims that Kaiser knowingly released lost-timers to SEIU-UHW to campaign against NUHW and paid them benefits, including health, dental and other medical benefits; vacation and life insurance benefits; credited ...