Wednesday, June 20, 2018

City Sues SEIU-UHW over Ballot Initiative

Alameda County Superior Court

SEIU-UHW’s Dave Regan is headed to a court tomorrow to face new challenges over his ballot initiatives.

The latest challenge comes the City of Emeryville, a tiny city of 12,000 residents sandwiched between Oakland and Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area.  

Emeryville’s City Attorney sued SEIU-UHW alleging that one of Regan’s ballot initiatives is unconstitutional, violates due process rules, and is preempted by state and federal laws.

Tomorrow, the two sides will face off in Alameda County Superior Court over the City Attorney’s request for a court order to block SEIU-UHW from proceeding with its initiative. (See lawsuit below: Alameda County Superior Court, “Michael A. Guina vs. Smith,” Case No. RG18887782.)

The lawsuit revolves around virtually identical ballot initiatives filed by Regan earlier this year in five cities -- Palo Alto, Redwood City, Pleasanton, Livermore and Emeryville -- targeting Stanford Health Care, which operates two hospitals, a cancer center and multiple clinics in various cities. Regan is working to put the initiatives on each city's November 2018 ballot.

In addition to the suit filed by Emeryville, Stanford recently announced it, too, will sue SEIU-UHW if a ballot initiative moves forward in the City of Palo Alto.

In May, multiple hospitals and industry groups -- including Stanford, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, John Muir Health and the California Hospital Association -- filed an “amici curiae brief” in the Emeryville litigation in support of that city.
Emeryville City Attorney Michael Guina
Meanwhile, ten days ago the City of Palo Alto met in closed session to consider whether it will file its on lawsuit against SEIU-UHW. (Gennady Sheyner, “Battle over health care costs hits Palo Alto,” Palo Alto Daily Post, June 15, 2018.)

What does Regan want from Stanford?

SEIU-UHW represents hundreds of caregivers at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto. Recently, SEIU-UHW attempted to unionize workers at a second non-union hospital that recently affiliated with Stanford. However, SEIU-UHW was unsuccessful. Regan hopes he can convince Stanford to ink a special unionization deal with him in exchange for Regan’s withdrawal of the ballot initiative.

A unionization deal might be similar to the one Regan secretly negotiated with the California Hospital Association. Regan’s deal would have forced non-union workers into pre-negotiated labor contracts with substandard wages and benefits, banned workers from striking, and imposed gag rules barring workers from reporting patient-care violations to government oversight agencies. That deal eventually imploded in a firestorm of lawsuits that were triggered by Regan’s violations of the terms of the deal.

What would Regan’s ballot initiative do to Stanford?

It would prohibit Stanford’s hospitals and clinics from charging more than 115% of the “reasonable cost of direct patient care.” Stanford claims this will dramatically cut its revenues and -- in a thinly veiled threat to SEIU-UHW’s existing members at Stanford Hospital -- may cause Stanford to cut those workers’ benefits and staffing levels. Here’s a quote from Stanford’s recent letter to the City of Palo Alto (see below for the full letters):
In that regard, Stanford’s preliminary calculations indicate that implementation of the initiative would result in a 20-25% drop in its revenues, which is many times greater than Stanford’s margin. As a consequence, Stanford would have to implement cuts to its staffing and benefit levels, facilities, and/or programs to avoid violating the statute.

Why is the City Emeryville suing SEIU-UHW?

Stanford also operates healthcare facilities in Emeryville. The city argues that Regan’s initiative, if successful, would harm its residents’ access to healthcare services by driving health care facilities out of the city and undermining the city’s economic development.
Dave Regan

Is Regan’s unionization-via-ballot-initiative a realistic strategy for boosting U.S. labor unions’ declining membership and flagging strength?

During the past seven years, Regan has spent upwards of $30 million on 20+ ballot initiatives, all of which were unsuccessful in unionizing even a single worker.

Instead, say critics, Regan should have spent SEIU-UHW’s $30+ million in dues money to recruit, organize and train workers – as well as wage effective contract fights to boost workers’ pay, benefits and working conditions.

If Regan could demonstrate SEIU-UHW’s ability to successfully raise workers’ pay and benefits and improve their working conditions, then workers would want to join it. Instead, Regan has given away SEIU-UHW members’ pension plans, health benefits, and working conditions during one contract negotiation after the next.

Secondly, critics say it’s inevitable that employers will fight ballot initiatives in the courts, which are not a friendly forum for unions to do battle. The courts, they say, seldom give unions a fair shake. In addition, legal battles force unions to spend vast amounts of money on high-paid lawyers.

Lastly, critics say SEIU’s so-called “organizing deals” with corporations don’t build the kind of strong, well-organized worksites that are essential for fighting and winning better workplace standards. Unionized worksites are strongest when they grow out of bottom-up efforts led by workers. Under Regan’s approach, the union is installed through a secret top-down deal negotiated by Regan and corporate executives.

Furthermore, Regan’s deals inevitably include hidden provisions aimed at sweetening the deal for bosses – such as pre-negotiated limits on workers’ pay and benefits. When workers ultimately discover these backroom deals, they turn against the union for selling out the members.

See below for a copy of the lawsuit filed by the City of Emeryville as well as two letters recently submitted by Stanford to the City of Palo Alto.