Soapbox

Shady union-hospital deal is double-crossing voters

SEIU-UHW members join a Sacramento picket line in 2012 with the National Union of Healthcare Workers. The two unions now oppose each other.
SEIU-UHW members join a Sacramento picket line in 2012 with the National Union of Healthcare Workers. The two unions now oppose each other. Sacramento Bee file

California voters have been duped, defrauded and double-crossed twice, and now they’re being fed an outrageously disingenuous lie to cover it up.

Earlier this month, a judge blocked an attempt by Oakland-based Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West to place on the November ballot an initiative to limit the pay of nonprofit hospital executives.

Why did the judge block it? Because it’s a bad idea? No. Because it was written incorrectly? No.

It’s hard to believe, but the courts blocked the initiative because it violated a secretive, collusive arrangement between the health care workers union and the California Hospital Association.

In 2014, the union abandoned its watchdog role by agreeing to a gag clause that legally prevents the union and its members from criticizing or filing ballot initiatives “adverse” to the hospital association or its members – in exchange for unfettered access to nonunion health care workers throughout California. Once the agreement was signed, the union abandoned its initiative, which had already qualified for the 2014 ballot.

Despite a chorus of critics in the media and the labor movement, SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan called the deal “visionary.” He didn’t see the fallout coming.

When the union failed to persuade workers throughout the state to become members, it retaliated against the hospitals by paying millions of dollars to get the initiative back on the ballot. The mess of threatened lawsuits and counterlawsuits quickly spiraled out of control, culminating in Regan’s alleged assault on an unsuspecting Contra Costa County process server.

California voters are paying the price for the spectacular collapse of this shady backroom deal. More than 600,000 people signed petitions to qualify the measure for the ballot in both 2014 and 2016, only to see it snatched away – once by the union officials who wrote it and now a second time as an unintended consequence of the gag clause.

SEIU-UHW officials are now crying foul to convince voters that they were sincere about the ballot measure in the first place. They’re hoping voters will forget that the union abandoned the measure once before and were prepared to do so again this year if it could have strong-armed the hospitals. And union leaders hope voters will have short memories two years from now when the union attempts its ballot-box blackmail again.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers has been a vocal critic of this scheme from the start. It embodies so much of what is wrong with the labor movement today.

Rather than subverting workers’ rights, unions should be democratic and member-driven. Rather than engaging in backroom deals, a union should be open and transparent. Rather than teasing and betraying voters, a union should be forthright and honest.

Let’s hope SEIU-UHW’s leaders learn their lesson and get back to organizing on behalf of health care workers rather than hospital executives.

Sal Rosselli is president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents 11,000 health care workers in California. He can be contacted at info@nuhw.org.

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