Capitol Alert

Union tells elected officials to shun hospital chain

California’s dominant healthcare union has taken the “extraordinary” step of requesting that elected officials refrain from accepting political contributions from an Ontario-based hospital chain and its chief executive.

In a series of recent letters, SEIU California President Laphonza Butler and SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West President Dave Regan call on elected officials to sever ties with Prime Healthcare Services, Inc. and Chief Executive Dr. Prem Reddy.

“We are making this extraordinary request because Prime Healthcare is an outlier in healthcare; they are bad for patients, bad for taxpayers, bad for workers and bad for our community,” Butler and Regan write in the letter.

This is the latest salvo in ongoing animosity between the union and the hospital chain. Prime Healthcare was one of only a handful from the industry not to sign on to a new so-called code of conduct that is said to aid the union’s organizing efforts. SEIU, in exchange for the pact, withdrew a pair of ballot initiatives that sought to rein in hospital costs and tamp down executive compensation at nonprofit facilities.

In a prepared statement, Prime Healthcare said it was an award-winning hospital system that “will always support its employees regardless of SEIU’s bullying tactics.” It called the letters a continuation of the union’s “vicious, five-year anti-corporate campaign against Prime Healthcare.”

“For SEIU, this is about the money, not the medicine. As SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan said to his members, after Prime Healthcare refused to sign a recent agreement with SEIU, ‘we're going to continue to be public and beat them upto get those guys to heel,’” the statement said. “In the end, what SEIU can’t earn by following normal union organizing rules, they are trying to win by filing frivolous complaints, manipulating the press and pressuring the legislature.”

While Prime Healthcare has been a major contributor to the California Democratic Party and some of its leaders, union leaders chided the chain and its head for donating tens of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and “PAC's associated with some of the Tea Party's most extreme figureheads.”

Specifically, it mentions the National Republican Congressional Committee and PACs with ties to Republicans Todd Akin, Sharron Angle and Michele Bachmann along with Koch Industries. An SEIU spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the letter went to elected officials from both parties.

The letter also notes that the chain has faced sanctions, at least one criminal and civil investigation and class-action lawsuits for wage and hour violations. Sean Wherley, the spokesman for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, called the chain’s actions “spotty at best and criminal at worst.”

Said Wherley: “We don’t think any elected officials – Democratic or Republican – should be associated with Prime Healthcare.”