Saturday, December 07, 2013

The SEIU is back: This time with ballot initiatives

As you watch the Service Employees International Union in action, you are inevitably left with the feeling that this is a union that has such substantial trouble relating to workers that it has to resort to powerful political tactics to accomplish its enrollment goals.  I documented one such tactic--the corporate campaign--in my book How a Blog Held Off The Most Powerful Union in America.  The object is to publicly denigrate a hospital to put pressure on it to sign a "neutrality agreement," a promise not to argue against or even discuss unionization while workers are considering which way to vote on the issue. (See an example of how a neutrality agreement works here.)

Now, under the guise of lowering health care costs, the union is involved in ballot initiatives with the purpose of obtaining these same types of agreement. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The nation's largest health-care union is threatening to mount ballot initiatives in California and Oregon that it says would lower health-care costs, but industry officials say the real goal is to pressure hospitals into making it easier for the union to organize thousands of workers.

In the SEIU's case, hospitals could be spared the cost of fighting the ballot initiatives if they agree to a partnership that includes neutrality, said Michael Lotito, a San Francisco lawyer who has represented hospitals against SEIU. "The real 'thing of value' that the union offers is, 'I'm going to stop attacking you,' " he said. 

The SEIU's approach is simply a shortcut based on using money and political influence to accomplish what it chooses not to do, i.e., engaging individual workers in good old time organizing to learn of their concerns and to offer solid ideas upon which to generate support for collective bargaining.


Anonymous said...

And the Supreme Court is considering another case involving neutrality agreements:

I really don't understand how this is any different than the Mafia promising not to cut off your fingers if you give them money. I believe that's called extortion, and is illegal. What's the difference?


Naomi said...

Last time I looked, the hospital associations, both state and US, had no problem using money and political muscle to achieve what they wanted. I'm not advocating for either ballot measure (or not; haven't read either in detail), but it's disingenuous to argue that somehow unions fail to engage workers, but hospital leadership does, without resorting to politics. In addition, hospital boards are overwhelmingly made up of big-bucks "community leaders," not leaders who represent broader constituencies.

Paul Levy said...


I wasn't arguing that hospital leadership is particularly effective at engaging workers. In fact, they are often terrible at doing so, providing an opportunity for unions to be more effective by comparison. That makes it even more interesting that this union has adopted an organizing approach that is distant from those workers and, I would argue, disrespectful of their ability to engage in informed dialogue and debate during a certification election.

old doc said...

Must agree with non-local----it simply sounds like protection money, however, that has not meant that hospital systems have not sold out to this particular union devil when it suited them.