Monday, January 9, 2012

SEIU-UHW: Let's Slash Your Health Benefits!

As promised, Tasty is passing along more information about the concessions that SEIU-UHW officials are trying to push down the throats of workers at Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) and other California hospital chains. Here's what's going on:

In late August, CHW's CEO Lloyd Dean sent an ominous email to employees announcing that the company is “going to contain costs” by “reforming our health and pension benefits – all of us will be asked to take greater responsibility for our retirement and health plans.” Here's an excerpt from the email (full version is here):

In the weeks following the CEO's email, SEIU-UHW's Hal Ruddick began negotiations with CHW for a new contract for 13,000 SEIU-UHW members. Here's what a worker wrote about the first bargaining session:
Could you post information regarding the new Wellness Program. Apparently, on the 1st day of bargaining, SEIU came to the bargaining team and suggested this bad idea and folks bit into it, but some rejected and was outvoted. This has never been introduced to the membership. The scary part about it, SEIU wants to help the boss cut costs on the back of members that have chronic illness, and they’re calling on Kaiser, Daughters of Charity and Sutter to join in this campaign.
Well, folks… it’s true. SEIU-UHW is pushing “Wellness Programs” as part of its so-called bargaining program dubbed “Let’s Get Healthy California!” An SEIU-UHW press release penned by SEIU-UHW's Elizabeth Brennan put it this way: “During contract negotiations, union members will prioritize concrete proposals such as wellness programs to improve the health of workers in their hospitals and lower costs.”  

In fact, SEIU-UHW’s Executive Board even passed a resolution announcing their plans to negotiate “Wellness Programs” with employers. Here's an excerpt from the resolution (full version is here):

So what exactly are “Wellness Programs”?  They’re the latest corporate scheme to push more health insurance costs onto workers’ backs. Tasty urges readers to check out this article in the New York Times. It describes how companies are using Wellness Programs to impose financial penalties on “unhealthy” workers -- those who have high cholesterol, high blood glucose levels or who’re considered to be overweight, smokers, etc. For example, after Wal-Mart implemented its “Wellness Program,” the company began charging smokers an additional $2,000 per year for their health coverage, according to the New York Times.

Last year, SEIU-UHW officials allowed Sutter Health to implement a "Wellness Program" in Northern California. The program measures each employee’s “body mass index” (BMI) to determine if they’re “overweight.” It also gathers information on each employee’s sexual orientation, amount of alcohol and tobacco they consume, etc. At first, the program appears to be aimed simply at offering incentives to “get healthy.” But after the companies get their foot in the door, they can impose thousands of dollars of costs on employees... like they've done at Wal-Mart, Safeway, Home Depot, etc.

SEIU's effort to mislead workers about Wellness Programs is classic "SEIU." The Boss calls it "cost-containment" ... and SEIU says its a "healthy provision for members that will improve the health of our communities." Looks like Hal Ruddick is trying to repeat last year's campaign, when he used blatant misinformation to "sell" a $217 million cut to workers' pensions. 

Tasty hears that CHW has wanted to implement a Wellness Program for a long time. Prior to SEIU’s trusteeship, CHW officials proposed Wellness Programs during negotiations in 2004 and 2008. But each time, SEIU-UHW’s old leadership knocked down the proposals because they were bad for the union's members. However, once Dave Regan and other out-of-state SEIU officials took over the union, CHW realized it now had a weak bargaining partner who was willing to slash workers' pensions and benefits... even though the company is making millions in profits.

Or, as CHW's Chief Financial Officer described it during his webcast with bond investors: "We are addressing cost structure in discussions with our partners at SEIU who have exhibited a keen understanding of the complexity of healthcare delivery and reimbursement today, and we expect to have further productive discussion over the next many months."