Local 5's hospital
workers might split
The union represents mostly
restaurant and hotel employees
Hospital workers who are members of the Local 5 Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union may soon get to decide if they want to be represented by another group that calls itself the Hawaii Hospital and Health Care Workers Union.
Currently, about 1,750 Local 5 members work at Kaiser Permanente in various jobs ranging from clerical and technician positions to licensed practical nurses. An additional 170 union members are employed in various positions at Hale Nani Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.
An interim executive board has been established for the prospective group made up of seven former Local 5 shop stewards who are employed at Kaiser, said Jim Kellog, an LPN and the interim board's president.
The group has been circulating two petitions: One calls on Local 5 health care workers to stop paying union dues to Local 5. The second one is for recognition of the union, Kellog said.
The group also plans to hold an informational meeting Saturday afternoon in McCoy Pavilion at Ala Moana Park.
Kellog, who had been a Local 5 shop steward until he was recently dismissed, said the idea came about in September.
"We have been having a lot of problems with Local 5 as far as representation," he said. "They have refused to put anyone from the hospital on their board. We've tried to meet with them, but they declined. So, basically, we just talked among ourselves about the various alternatives and decided the best one was to develop a union."
Eric Gill, financial secretary-treasurer for Local 5, dismissed the group's preliminary efforts.
"First of all, they have not formed a union," Gill said. "This is not a real union. It has no members, no office, no staff, and they haven't even pulled a charter. This is, in fact, being promoted by former Local 5 shop stewards. We just kicked them out as shop stewards a few weeks ago on the basis that they were trying to raid our union."
This is not the first time talk about a union to represent hospital workers has arisen, Kellog said.
"When we first started talking about setting up an independent union for hospital workers was in the late 1970s," he said. "In fact, it was Arthur Rutledge who planted the seed in my mind."
Kellog said he has consulted with Tony Rutledge, former Local 5 leader, president of Unity House, and son of the late Arthur Rutledge.
"Tony is there for advice if need be but is not actively involved," he said.
Kellog would not say how many people have signed up so far in support of a new union, but said the next move would be to file the petitions with the National Labor Relations Board, which could then choose to conduct an election where employees would decide which union they want to represent them, he said.
"We already have a fairly large number, but I cannot say how many at this point," he said.
Eventually, the union wants to represent other Hawaii hospital workers at Hawaii hospitals who are now part of other unions. But for right now, the focus is Local 5, Kellog said.
Health-care workers at a number of Hawaii's hospitals are represented by several unions, including the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 142, the Teamsters Local 996, the Collective Bargaining Organization affiliated with Hawaii Nurses Association, the United Public Workers and the Laborers Union Local 368.
Kellog said there should be a union that works exclusively for health-care workers.
"That should be their main focus," Kellog said. "It's time for hospital workers to be represented by a hospital workers union. We have carpenters, truckers and laborers unions. Why not a hospital union?"
So far, there has been no reaction to the new group from Kaiser Hospital's management. Kaiser spokeswoman Jan Kagehiro declined to comment on the possibility of a new union at the hospital.
Kellog said the group's issues are not with hospital management.
"The employer has remained extremely neutral. The fight is not with Kaiser, but who is best to represent hospital workers," he said.
Local 5's Gill said he believes the Kaiser Local 5 members, whose contract comes up for renegotiation next summer, will stick with the union rather than going with the new group.
"Local 5 is confident of our members at Kaiser," Gill said. "We've had a tremendous groundswell of support as we've gone out to get the place organized in preparation for negotiations. Our organizers are finding enthusiastic support from Kaiser members, and we are quite confident that Local 5 will get a good contract and the members will settle this matter."