SEIU gets in bed with the California Hospital Association

KaiserJune 15, 2014

SEIU+CHAIn May, SEIU-UHW and the California Hospital Association (CHA) announced a three-and-a-half-year “partnership,” the purpose of which, they claimed, was to work together to lobby for increased Medi-Cal reimbursements to hospitals. In a conference call with journalists, SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan and CHA President Duane Dauner trumpeted their agreement as “visionary,” but they wouldn’t allow the press or the public to see the details, offering vague and evasive responses to all inquiries.

Fortunately, the secret is out. An audio recording of an SEIU staff meeting has been making the rounds of various journalism outlets and consumer watchdog groups. In the recording, Regan reveals the details that he tried to keep from the press, including an agreement in which CHA will allow SEIU to begin organizing 30,000 California healthcare workers in June.

The truth is that SEIU and CHA have signed a sweetheart deal in which the union has sold out workers and consumers to curry favor with employers. The employers, in turn, will allow SEIU to unionize more workers, but under terms favorable to the employers. It’s a vicious cycle of corruption that undermines healthcare workers’ livelihoods, compromises their ability to advocate for their patients, and dispenses with the core principles upon which trade unionism is based.

Here are the terms of the deal:

Organizing rights
CHA will allow SEIU to immediately begin organizing as many as 30,000 California healthcare workers without interference from the employers and with full access to workplaces. SEIU has already begun implementing plans to start sending staff into these facilities June 15.

Medi-Cal advocacy fund
SEIU will put $20 million of member dues into a joint advocacy fund — with CHA contributing $80 million — that the two entities will use to push for billions of dollars in increased Medi-Cal reimbursements to hospitals. SEIU will also be expected to use its political capital to that end, pressuring lawmakers to funnel these public funds to healthcare corporations.

More organizing rights
If this campaign to increase Medi-Cal payments meets CHA’s as-yet-unspecified criteria for success, CHA will stand aside and allow SEIU to organize an additional 30,000 California healthcare workers.

Pre-negotiated contracts
In return, SEIU will force those workers into pre-negotiated contracts that ban strikes, keep wages low and benefits to a minimum, and restrict the workers’ right to criticize the employer or report healthcare violations that endanger patients. More members means more dues for SEIU; pre-negotiated substandard contracts mean amenable terms for the employer. Everybody wins — except workers and patients.

The gag order
The “neutrality” agreement is especially onerous. The SEIU-CHA “code of conduct” eliminates the union’s watchdog role, prohibiting caregivers from advocating for their patients and from reporting healthcare violations or substandard care to regulatory agencies or the media.

Abandoned ballot initiatives
To bring CHA to the table, SEIU threatened the industry by launching a $5 million campaign to qualify two statewide ballot initiatives. Under the terms of this deal, SEIU has officially abandoned those popular initiatives, betraying the thousands of Californians who signed petitions to qualify them for the November ballot. The ballot initiatives were never sincere; California voters were duped. And if CHA reneges on any part of the deal, Regan told his staff, SEIU could later relaunch those initiatives to force CHA to make further concessions.

The SEIU-CHA deal has a precedent. SEIU engineered a similar deal with Washington state’s nursing home industry whereby SEIU helped increase Medicaid’s payments for nursing homes in exchange for the right to add thousands of workers to SEIU’s membership rolls under substandard, employer-friendly terms.

“If it wasn’t clear before, it’s perfectly clear now: SEIU is a company union,” said NUHW President Sal Rosselli in an op-ed published in Payers & Providers. “In exchange for adding more members to its rolls and more member dues to its coffers, SEIU is betraying its own members by undermining the livelihoods, health benefits, and working conditions of hundreds of thousands of California healthcare workers.”