Several recent events reminded me of a subtle change in the tactics being used by the SEIU in its corporate campaign against BIDMC. You may recall that I have described this kind of campaign as an attempt to denigrate the reputation of the hospital and its trustees in order to put pressure on the institution to agree to concessions in the organizing process that would eliminate many of the protections contained in the National Labor Relations Act. This is a long-standing pattern used by the SEIU in several jurisdictions.
Here's the mutation to the playbook. The SEIU has apparently decided that it does not want to look like it is trying too hard to hurt the reputation of the hospital. Why? Well, I am guessing that there are two reasons. The first is a legal one. Unions are being sued by companies who are alleging that the union's corporate campaign against the employer constitutes illegal racketeering. Here is an excerpt from the December 10, 2007, Wall Street Journal Online:
Employers are using laws originally aimed at organized crime to combat aggressive union organizing efforts that they claim amount to extortion. Two lawsuits filed by employers in the past two months invoked the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, to claim unions have tried to damage their reputations and businesses through public-relations campaigns and other tactics. In both suits, the companies claim the unions are spreading false and damaging information through flyers and the Internet and at demonstrations.
Perhaps the SEIU is particularly worried that a motion to dismiss one of these case was denied by a Federal court.
The second reason might be that, in a town like Boston, which is so dependent on the health care sector, there is not much taste among public officials and others for destroying the reputation of one or more highly respected academic centers.
So, does this mean an end to the corporate campaign? No way. It just means that the attacks are more subtle and are always put in the context of improving the health care delivery system. And they will tend to be directed personally at trustees and other individuals, rather than at the hospital, per se. Indeed, first, there will often carefully be a statement along the lines that the hospital does many good things for patients and the community. This way, no one at the SEIU can be accused of wanting to hurt the hospital.
Nice work guys. This is clever and thoughtful and is designed to switch attention away from the union's unabated desire to put pressure on the employer to concede to changes in the federal organizing rules. Instead, the union has arrogated to itself the role of public defender -- citing alleged accounting errors, alleged failures of trustees to carried out their fiduciary role, and alleged failures of licensing, regulatory, and other bodies and public accounting firms to do their jobs properly. In today's post-Enron, post-subprime-loan corporate environment, such allegations are meant to leave the public thinking, "Well, there must be something wrong." Because the rules surrounding hospital finances and other matters are so complicated, no simple answer -- no matter how accurate -- can be given by the institution in a way that effectively rebuts each accusation in the public eye. And then, of course, it gets picked up and repeated every time the union files a new allegation.
Stay tuned for more mutations in forthcoming chapters of this saga. But, rest assured, the playbook is still in use.