Friday, April 27, 2018

SEIU-UHW Spends $14M on Ballot Initiatives in 14 Months

SEIU-UHW's Dave Regan

While tens of thousands of teachers are striking and winning in multiple states, SEIU-UHW’s Dave Regan is pursuing a very different approach to building the labor movement.

Since 2009 (when Regan was appointed the union’s trustee), SEIU-UHW has conducted virtually no strikes whatsoever despite being one of the largest unions in California.

Instead of organizing workers, Regan has diverted tens of millions of dollars from SEIU-UHW’s budget into ballot initiatives. In 2017, he spent approximately $10 million of SEIU-UHW’s budget on ballot initiatives -- about 10% of the union’s budget. In 2018, he’s on track to spend even more.

What’s Regan trying to do?

Basically, he’s hoping he can use the threat of ballot initiatives to pressure healthcare companies into deals with him. That’s what he tried to do (unsuccessfully) with the California Hospital Association.

This year, he’s trying to put nine initiatives on the California ballot. Two of them target DaVita, a kidney dialysis company where SEIU-UHW’s organizing efforts were unsuccessful, according to NLRB records.

Another initiative targets Watsonville Community Hospital, where SEIU-UHW has been unsuccessful in negotiating a contract for its members. Other initiatives target Stanford Health Care, where SEIU-UHW was unsuccessful in organizing workers at one of Stanford’s hospitals. And there are others.

Will Regan’s ballot initiatives be successful?

So far, none of his 20+ ballot initiatives has succeeded during the past seven years. That is… they haven’t led SEIU-UHW to organize a single worker. And that’s after Regan spent approximately $30 million on these initiatives. Not a record to write home about.
A DaVita dialysis clinic
How much is Regan spending on his 2018 ballot initiatives?

Beaucoup bucks.

In 2017, he spent approximately $10 million, according to SEIU-UHW’s DOL Form LM-2.

For example, he paid $1.2 million to a company to collect voters’ signatures to qualify initiatives for the ballot (Kimball Petition Management). He paid more than a half million dollars to polling firms to survey voters about his initiatives (ALG Research and Fairbanks Maslin Maullin Metz & Associates, Inc.). He spent another half million on lawyers, advertising firms, media agents, consultants and travel.

Regan gave the biggest chunk of change ($7.3 million) to a spinoff organization he created called “The Fairness Project.” The organization, which is headed by SEIU-UHW staffer Steve Trossman (he’s the organization’s “President”), not only supports ballot initiatives in California but also tries to spread their use in other states by funding various initiatives. According to the organization’s website, it has backed ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage, expand Medicaid, and establish laws around paid sick time in a dozen states.

The website, however, doesn’t say whether “The Fairness Project” is also funding Regan’s ballot initiatives against the dialysis industry in Arizona and Ohio, which Regan filed recently in an apparent effort to intensify his pressure on DaVita.

After spending roughly $10 million in 2017, Regan spent millions more during the first few of months of 2018. In February, for example, SEIU-UHW paid $3.5 million to buy TV, newspaper and online ads in California, Washington DC, Colorado and Massachusetts targeting DaVita and Fresenius (another kidney dialysis company), according to a press release issued by SEIU-UHW.

And things are about to get much more expensive.

Earlier this month, SEIU-UHW submitted 600,000 signatures to the state, and is now waiting to hear whether its kidney dialysis initiatives have qualified for the November 2018 ballot.

In response, DaVita and Fresenius have begun airing TV and online ads attacking SEIU-UHW and its ballot initiatives. They also launched a website called
Image from dialysis industry's ad against SEIU-UHW
Of course, it’s possible the corporations will get nervous and decide to try to cut some kind of deal with Regan to get the initiatives off the ballot.

It’s also possible these deep-pocketed corporate giants will decide to go toe-to-toe with Regan at the ballot box. The companies have lots of money -- $3.9 billion in combined profits in 2016, according to SEIU-UHW. This would force Regan to spend tens of millions on a costly campaign to try to win the vote. California, the most populous state in the nation, is notoriously expensive when it comes to elections -- tens of millions of voters spread across some of the most expensive media markets in the nation.

Aside from its costliness and lack of success, a larger problem with Regan’s approach is it turns unions into a kind of Political Action Committee (PAC) run by technocrats and consultants rather than well-organized, worker-led organizations capable of exerting their power on the shop floor to get a fair share from corporations. Most observers agree we need to build the latter kind of union, not Regan’s PAC version.

For example, imagine if Regan had spent $30 million on actually organizing workers instead of funding failed ballot initiatives?

Labor leaders like Regan, when they don’t have the ability or will to lead workers to fight, often look for crutches… like ballot initiatives. In this case, Regan’s crutch appears to have become his entire strategy.