A Historic Night to Remember at Kaiser's Los Angeles Medical Center

It was past midnight Thursday night ebbing into Friday morning when CNA/NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro announced the report of the final numbers from the vote count at Kaiser Permanente’s flagship Southern California hospital.

“CNA, 696, UNAC, 305, no union, 1” – sparking cheers, and some tears of joy, hands raised, and song from hundreds of Kaiser’s Los Angeles Medical Center RNs adorned in CNA’s signature red scrubs, T-shirts, lanyards, and “Vote CNA” pins. They were gathered in front of the large hospital on Los Angeles’ fabled Sunset Boulevard.

The celebration culminated months of work by RNs, many of whom aspired for years to be a part of CNA, linking up with 19,000 CNA Kaiser RNs in Northern and Central California, who have long established a banner reputation of no nonsense advocacy for patients and nurses.

To the 1,200 LAMC nurses, CNA's record stood in stark contrast to unions, like UNAC, which through Kaiser’s Labor Management Partnership have muted the voice of union members, and regularly placed patient, public, and worker advocacy as secondary to Kaiser’s business goals.  The result — an impressive 89 percent of LAMC RNs voted in the historic election  by a landslide margin of 70 to 30 percent for CNA. 

“If there is anyone out there who doubts that CNA is the right choice for us, tonight is the answer,” said Tessie Costales, RN, an intensive care unit nurse at LAMC, at a celebration party at a nearby restaurant after the final count.

“It’s the answer that we have waited for; we are the answer that will lead those who have been told by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful of what we can achieve to be part of history and hope for a better tomorrow for years to come. A season of spring has begun. We will lead that change,” Costales added to cheers.

“CNA,” said Joel Briones, a critical care RN at LAMC, “is not just a union, it’s a movement.”

“We are fighting for a social movement,” agreed DeMoro, speaking to the RNs shortly after. “We are going to transform this country, to address social and economic inequality” that is reflected in those who “can’t get the level of care they need” from healthcare corporations that elevate profits over patient need.

As David Johnson, CNA organizing director observed, issues at stake for so many CNA members. “There is a fundamental conflict between the drive for more profit” in the healthcare industry “and the nurses desire to care for their patients. That conflict underlies everything we do in this organization and in fighting for justice in this society.”

“I’ve never seen a group of nurses so dedicated to being a part of the CNA family and changing the health care system and changing the world,” DeMoro said.

That determination drove a historic organizing campaign by the LAMC RNs. They had the double challenge of uniting to address their growing concerns about patient care conditions – that led to a two-day strike in late April, exceedingly rare at a time they had no union representation officially recognized by the employer  — while also confronting the collusion of a labor management partnership union with the employer.

“In spite of Kaiser’s blatant favoritism to a management union, we believe we will be able to sit down with Kaiser and negotiate a good agreement for the LAMC nurses, as we have for the Northern and Central California Kaiser RNs,” DeMoro said Friday.

One post-election moment perhaps best symbolized Kaiser’s sympathies in the election – a company memo offering counseling and “emotional support” to UNAC supporters, and probably their own managers distraught over the results.

“Be focused more on the future than the past,” the memo read, warning that “personal anxieties can overwhelm and lead to emotional blocking” with times allotted for staff to meet with Employee Assistance Program counselors.