SEIU sells out on Prop. 45

Members of SEIU Local 1000 rally at the Capitol on July, 1, 2009.
Members of SEIU Local 1000 rally at the Capitol on July, 1, 2009.

Proposition 45 is pretty simple: It would grant California’s elected insurance commissioner veto power over health insurance companies’ exorbitant rate hikes.

That’s it.

The job of the insurance commissioner is to ensure that consumers don’t get ripped off. Proposition 45 would simply give the commissioner the authority to actually do the job. Thirty-five other states already have such a system in place.

Health care insurance rates have been rising five times faster than inflation. Over the past decade, middle-income households have seen their health care costs increase by 51 percent – twice their income growth –and premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance have doubled. Low-income families contribute the greatest share of their income to health care, with 10 percent going to out-of-pocket expenses and 6 percent to premiums.

It’s clear why health care insurance companies and providers would want to defeat Prop. 45. To date, the industry has spent more than $57 million to kill the ballot measure and protect its huge profits and lavish executive compensation packages, outspending proponents 14 to 1. “Nonprofit” Kaiser Permanente, which has made more than $13 billion since 2009, including more than $2.1 billion so far this year, has spent $20 million to defeat the measure.

It’s also clear why working families and health care workers would support Prop. 45. If passed, Prop. 45 would protect families from skyrocketing health care premiums and help ensure affordable coverage for all Californians. It would require health insurers such as Kaiser, Blue Cross and Sutter Health to publicly justify their rate increases.

So why has the Service Employees International Union – the nation’s largest health care workers union – joined health insurance corporations in opposition to Prop. 45?

The answer: A few months ago, SEIU signed a corrupt deal with those companies in which it promised that in return for the opportunity to unionize 60,000 California health care workers, SEIU would not criticize these corporations or support legislation they oppose. SEIU explicitly agreed to prohibit its 150,000 California members from participating in “communications that degrade or attack a signatory hospital or health system or the hospital industry” or that raise “concerns about hospital pricing and executive compensation in health care.”

In other words, SEIU has formally abdicated its watchdog role. In exchange for the chance to collect dues from 60,000 new members, SEIU has officially sold out their workers and is actively campaigning in support of their employers’ political goals. This is the very definition of a company union.

SEIU and California Hospital Association officials tout their deal as “revolutionary.” And perhaps they’re right. A defining principle of the labor movement is that unions represent workers. With a few strokes of the pen, SEIU has effectively silenced its members and put their dues dollars at the disposal of wealthy and powerful corporations.

Meanwhile, consumers lose, health care workers lose and democracy loses.

Sal Rosselli is president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents more than 10,000 employees in California.