Capitol Alert

Health care workers union pushing dialysis bill looks to ballot

A patient undergoes dialysis treatment at a Veterans Affairs hospital in 2011. A healthcare workers union is pushing a bill and an initiative in California meant to increase the number of unionized dialysis workers.
A patient undergoes dialysis treatment at a Veterans Affairs hospital in 2011. A healthcare workers union is pushing a bill and an initiative in California meant to increase the number of unionized dialysis workers. NYT

SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West filed a pair of proposed November 2018 ballot measures Wednesday that would set staffing ratios at dialysis clinics and contain other provisions similar to pending union-backed legislation that faces an uncertain outcome in the Legislature.

Wednesday’s filings could give supporters leverage in negotiations over Senate Bill 349 by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. The heavily lobbied measure is backed by labor unions and other organizations who contend that dialysis clinics are putting profits before patients. Opponents, led by dialysis firms, some hospitals and business groups, say the bill could reduce patients’ access to dialysis treatment.

“This is not the first time United Healthcare Workers West has threatened to use the initiative process to put their union member-building agenda ahead of what’s good for patients,” Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for opponents, said in a statement criticizing the proposed ballot measures.

The two measures – the Kidney Dialysis Patient Protection Act and the Fair Pricing for Dialysis Act – include similar language. Besides setting rules on staffing levels, they would require annual inspections of dialysis clinics, require more recovery time for patients, and restrict how much patients can be charged.

It takes 365,880 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. It’s not uncommon for a group to file more than one proposed ballot measure and decide later which one to pursue, if any.

The legislation passed the Senate in May, with two Democrats joining Republicans in opposition. It passed its first Assembly committee in June and is pending in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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