Friday, April 7, 2017

Hospital Worker Takes Case to US Supreme Court after SEIU-UHW Officials Fail to Protect Pensions for 15,000 Workers at Dignity Health

A California hospital worker named Starla Rollins has taken a fight to protect 15,000 workers' pension benefits all the way to the US Supreme Court.

Last week, Rollins’ attorneys asked the Supreme Court to safeguard the retirement benefits of tens of thousands of workers at Dignity Health, a giant hospital company headquartered in San Francisco. 

Even though Dignity’s pension plan covers more than 15,000 SEIU-UHW members, SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan and other SEIU-UHW officials have refused to lift a finger to defend workers’ pensions.

Here’s what’s going on:

In 2009 and 2012, SEIU-UHW’s Dave Regan and Hal Ruddick teamed up with Dignity executives to implement sharp cuts to the pension plan covering SEIU-UHW members at more than 30 hospitals across California.

Then, in 2013, Starla Rollins -- a 26-year Ward Clerk at Community Hospital of San Bernardino -- discovered that SEIU-UHW officials had allowed Dignity to underfund SEIU-UHW members’ pension plan by $1.2 billion. (Yes, that’s a “b” for “billion.”)

Because SEIU-UHW officials refused to do anything, Rollins decided to sue Dignity in a class-action lawsuit on behalf of herself and her co-workers. Her lawsuit -- “Starla Rollins v. Dignity Health”-- was filed in 2013. Tasty covered it in this earlier post.

Here’s the latest.

Last July, Rollins and her attorney won an important victory in federal court after doing battle with Dignity’s high-priced lawyers for three years. (See below the decision issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.) 

Dignity, rather than accepting defeat, appealed the court’s decision to the US Supreme Court.

Last week, lawyers for both sides argued their case in front of the Supreme Court.
Starla Rollins

The case centers on the following question: A federal law (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act) requires corporations to adequately fund their employees’ pensions so workers actually receive the pension payments they earned when they retire. 

Dignity acknowledges it has underfunded workers’ pension. But company executives claim they’re exempt from federal law because Dignity is a “religious organization” …even though Dignity has bought up many non-religious hospitals. It even changed its name from “Catholic Healthcare West” so it could re-brand itself as a non-religious company.

What happened during last week’s oral argument at the US Supreme Court?

According to a transcript (see copy below), Judge Sonia Sotomayor grilled a lawyer representing Dignity. Here’s an excerpt from her questioning:
[Dignity is] the fifth largest healthcare provider in the nation. They have 60,000 employees. Do you believe that Congress's vision was to let, what is essentially, a corporate entity opt out of protecting all of those employees?

Kick their asses!

So what happens next?

The Supreme Court justices will publish their decision sometime in June.

What about SEIU-UHW? It continues to do absolutely nothing to protect its members’ retirement benefits. Apparently, “Wall Street” Dave Regan is too busy polishing the CEO’s shoes.

So... huge props to Starla!

In fact, Rollins has been waging not one but two important legal battles against SEIU-UHW for its failure to support its members.

In the second case, Rollins won a giant victory last October when a federal court ordered officials from both SEIU-UHW and Dignity Health to stand trial for illegally laying her off from her 26-year job and then refusing to honor her union contract’s seniority agreement. Rollins was part of the union’s leadership team prior to SEIU’s 2009 trusteeship, when NUHW President Sal Rosselli led the union.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the Supreme Court’s June decision! Stay tuned.