Sunday, October 14, 2007

Do you respect me more or less?

Eliot writes a comment on one of my postings below:

Mr. Levy,
Your consistently anti-union bias makes me respect you less. You may think you are being reasoned and dispassionate; simply responding to unfair attacks upon your integrity by SEIU, but I think you are ignoring the inherent tilt in your opinions which comes through with every blog post you write on this subject.
October 13, 2007 10:37 PM

Thank you, Eliot. I understand that one of the possibilities from expressing my opinions publicly is that some people will respect me less. Another is that some will respect me more.

But, I don't believe that you should respect someone more or less for opinions stated. I believe you should respect or not respect people for the actions they take and the deeds they do.

On the specific point you raise. I do like to think I am being reasoned, but several of you have pointed out what you believe to be inconsistencies in my logic. I created this blog to give people a chance to comment in whatever way they like, so it is perfectly fine to disagree.

I do not claim to be dispassionate. In the last six years, I have come to have great affection for this hospital and the people who work here. When I see that hospital and those people coming under attack, I respond. Once again, you are free to point out flaws in that response.

And, finally, you should be careful of the term "anti-union". I think if you talk to people who worked with me in other organizations in which unions were present or wanted to have representation, you would be hard-pressed to find folks who would use that description of me. With regard to union organizing at BIDMC, I have been very clear about my opinion, starting months ago with a note to our staff. Here's the pertinent excerpt:

"For me the underlying question is whether a union at BIDMC would enhance your ability to deliver the kind of patient care that is so important to all of us, to strengthen our research program, to improve our education programs, to strengthen our ability to serve the community, and to improve our employees' chances for personal and professional development and advancement. I do not believe that it would, and so I intend to advise you against creating a union here. Ultimately, though, the choice will be yours, and we will respect your judgment on that matter if and when the time comes for a fair and free vote on this issue."

I also said:

"We believe in free elections in which each employee, unencumbered by peer pressure or other outside forces, gets to vote "yes" or "no" in the sanctity of a private voting place. Thus, we cannot agree to a "neutrality" agreement nor to a system that bypasses the federal NLRB election process. In other parts of the country, hospitals that have taken similar positions to ours have found themselves subject to massive public relations attack by unions. The object of these attacks seems to be to denigrate the reputation of the hospitals and to put pressure on volunteer boards of trustees and management to agree to the unions' organizing terms."

I don't see any of this or my other comments as anti-union or unreasonable, but anyone is free to disagree. To me, what is more striking is the silence on the part of my colleagues from other hospitals, the insurance companies, and the business leaders in the state. Civic leadership demands that corporate and institutional leaders be clear where they stand on major issues of the day. And this is one. The SEIU has made it clear that it is targeting all of the Boston hospitals for organizing efforts. Dear colleagues, if you support what it is doing, please say so publicly. If you do not, now would be a good time to be heard. I know what you are saying privately, in the confines of those business meetings and board rooms . . . but it doesn't mean squat if you are not saying it to your elected representatives, the media, and the public. The SEIU is counting on your intimidated silence as a form of complicity. So far, you are squarely in the union's camp.


Anonymous said...

First, to Eliot, I think it's probably pretty much a hospital CEO's fiduciary duty to oppose unionization. Objectively, there is little evidence to show that unionization improves patient care, and it certainly does not improve a hospital's financial situation, so no responsible CEO would embrace it. The only situation in which I would lose respect for Paul is if he refused to deal with the union, or dealt with them unfairly, should a valid vote lead to unionization.

As far as the other CEOs' silence, I have been contemplating this myself, since I have a longstanding interest in what makes hospital administrators tick. It seems to me that their speaking out in concert with you, Paul, may empower the union even more to claim that these big, powerful hospitals (Goliath) are united against the little, poor hospital workers (David); thus further distorting the tone of the discussion. Although I harbor the secret suspicion that it is really just cowardice,, or intent to appease, which keeps them silent, it may be for the best in the end. You, for better or worse, are leading the front line infantry.
ps you are free, of course, to choose not to publish this comment in your blog, should it prove inflammatory.

Anonymous said...

Propoganda is a powerful weapon and unions thrive on it.

Your Transparency is neutralising their efforts.Once you are overcome the other CEO's are likely to crumble.

The obvious intent of this constant chipping is to make you blink. Thus the provocations are continuing mindlessly, by distorting something from each clarification you publish.

You have so far confounded them by keeping your flock togather. But you can't keep defending indefinatly, and they know this.

As you mentioned earlier on this site they have three purposes. First, to obfuscate the statements made by 'You' about the issue. Second, to present a revisionist view of the union itself where it may have proposed an elimination of elections!! Third, to attempt to drive a wedge between 'You' and 'All Others' by using these mischaracterizations and exibiting concern of fairplay and welfare of the workers in 'Your' hospital.

Most Head Honchos are very self-opinionated people and difficult to organise. But they are sharp & aware of this imminent unwelcome development. Therefore the other CEO's may appear to be dreading to move a whisker now but may be willing to pow-wow for the greater good.

Best wishes for your success in whatever is destined

Dino William Ramzi said...

Two comments, neither of which are comfortable:

1) Why would a CEO at a competing hospital support you in a fight against a union (even if you would choose to characterize it otherwise) since it is a clear competitive disadvantage? They stand to profit if your staff is unionized and theirs isn't. Silence here is the most neutral position.
2) I have trouble understanding why a not-for-profit would attract a union. A union's mandate is to represent workers, but a not-for-profit represents them also, by virtue of its responsibility to the community at large. The interests of workers and management should be aligned with those of the community.

I probably do not understand the dynamics in your particular community.

Anonymous said...


On your first point, the unions hope to organize all the hospitals. Silence buys them nothing.

Anonymous said...

An observation. Many in the health care industry fear two aspects of a union drive: the tactics adopted by the union (like going to the dentist every day for two or three years) and the risk that politicians who are union allies (like most Democrats) will arbitrarily use government power to help the union.

Dealing with the first issue just takes strength of will. Dealing with the second issue requires confidence in the judgment of our elected officials.

EB said...

This may be a foolish question, but I do not understand why there is a need for unions anymore? At the turn of the century, unions helped prevent non-skilled laborers from taking over specific job class positions. However, with a greater educational structure and ability to verify credentials, there is greater opportunity to become (and prove that one is) a skilled laborer. Less than 20% of the US workforce is unionized, steadily declining from its peak in the 1940-1950s during the baby boomer years. Standard of living has increased, globalization has played a factor in this, and it seems that unions create a significant obstacle for management in the efficient operations of an organization.

Rob said...

"I don't believe that you should respect someone more or less for opinions stated"

Not to be snarky. Really. But stating an opinion IS an action, and it reflects your current working philosophy. To my admittedly inexperienced eye, it does always seem as though your venting against unionization could be considered self-serving.

Maybe I'm missing the parts where you say how you're whatever underlying issues there are. If so, I stand corrected. But in my memory, it seems like this has been a slap-down against unionization in general, and maybe not specifically pertaining to this case.

That said, this union's tactics - THEIR stated opinions as actions - certainly bely at best a selfish agenda.

Complicated stuff.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I am not sure of your point, rob. Let's say that I was against unions (which I am not), would it make what I have said about a particular union's organizing tactics less valid? The comments should rise or fall on their own merit.

You see, accusing someone of being "anti-union" is often meant to discredit the points they are making on this issue. And, in Massachusetts, the label carries a particular weight that would probably not be the case in some other states.

Anonymous said...

Paul, pardon the double post here, but I posted the below posting in response to Elliott's comment on your original blog posting. I am just now reading through all your new postings for the week (whew, you are too fast for me), and I think it is an appropriate comment to post here. On a complete side note, I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog and try to keep up with it even if I rarely have the time to comment! Feel free to not publish this comment below a second time:


In response to Elliott's comment above, I think it is strange that someone would respect you less for being open about what you think and inviting questions and comments. If anything, I have less respect for your silent colleagues, who either haven't the spine to respond, or are hoping that you'll get the wind knocked out of you. Or maybe they're hoping to not rock the boat with the various political interests in town? I admire you for having the gumption to be clear about where you stand. If a lowering of respect is due to any party here, I'd think the dubious prize should go to the party that is trying to denigrate the reputation of a community organization that has made a tremendous comeback in recent years, and that is a beacon of caring and compassion in the healthcare world.

I've been around Boston a while, and am surprised that anyone who knows your history and track record would call you anti-union. I think that here, in this particular organizig case, you are simply doing your job as CEO - advising your staff on what you think is best for the organization (while maintaining respect for their right to choose), and trying to protect the reputation of your organization from a union that has a tremendous amount of resources allocated to its tactics (which, from what I can tell so far, are unseamly at best).

Finally, let me be clear here, lest folks jump to conclusions - I am not anti-union. There is a place for unions in society - perhaps less so than in the days of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" - but that decision should be left upto workers to decide in a way that allows them privacy and protection. Does anyone else see the irony in the fact that the union is now trying to portray itself as in favor of elections, when it has previously tried to push card checks - and continues to push for this change at the federal level?

Rob said...

Fair enough question. Your comments about this union's tactics are, to my mind, accurate. I've validated that in my comments before.

My point is that your public comments certainly can leave one the impression that you are against unions in general, since there's no evidence to the contrary, and I don't hear what you're doing to address the underlying problem. That would explain why someone who reads this would think you are "anti-union."

I absolutely accept that is not true in your case. But I have sometimes come away from reading your vents against this union's tactics with the impression you're generally against any sort of unionization. I can correct that. Others won't bother.

It's that we have no other context in which to compare. (Not to be patronizing...but) This is a danger of blogging (and communication in general): that you assume knowledge on the part of your readers and that they will come to the same conclusion you did. I'm sure you're more than familiar with that problem. For the record, the action of writing this blog is so respectable as to be squeaky-painful, and speaks to your good intentions.

Anonymous said...

Before coming to work at BIDMC I belonged to a very large union for 22 years. I got to see both sides of unionization both good and bad. I don't feel (for me at least) that a union would best serve me in my current position,as i feel that I don't need anyone to represent me other than myself.The working conditions are good and as safe as a medical environment can get.

Maybe the SEIU should try Wal-Mart, now there's a place that could use unionization.

Anonymous said...

anon 12:51,

> Maybe the SEIU should try Wal-Mart, now there's a place that could use unionization.

Huzzah huzzah!

Anonymous said...

I am a retired Hospital President and I applaud you willingness to state your position on the issue of unionization. I do not read your comments as anti union, but rather pro BIDMC. It is you opinion that a union will not advance the mission of BIDMC-I agree with you.
Union rhetoric generally has a theme of "employees need a union to make (fill in the blank) a better place. I never see better defined by the unnion.
Also, the neurality agreement is meant to disenfranchise employees by taking away their right to a secret vote. Many employees who secretly do not want a union will fear (and often receive) payback for not signing a union card.

So... the union that says without us you can not be protected, is acutally saying sigh here or else

Keep up the good work-

Elliott said...

Mr. Levy,

You have suggested that every move that the union has made has no motive other than softening you up for the ensuing battle. Their criticisms of the BIDMC charity accounting which, I'm sure, are 100% by the book, are valid. You didn't create the game, but BIDMC plays it well. Charity accounting at hospitals in this country is a scandal even when done all according to Hoyle. Instead of acknowledging that fact, you attacked the union and their motives.

You have suggested that union concern for patient care is another red herring based on softening you up. On the other hand, the California nurse-patient ratios were only passed because of the union and there is ample evidence that these will improve patient outcomes.

You have suggested that the union will intimidate and bully workers when the recent history in this country is the exact opposite. It is management that intimidates and bullies in most union organizing efforts and the ability of management to communicate with workers is heavily biased in management's favor.

You have suggested that the union would not benefit patient care and would increase costs and yet have provided no evidence of that although this site always get a chorus of agreement when you post such comments.

You have touted your support for an NLRB election without acknowledging that a card check system is also allowed and sanctioned. You have done this without acknowledging what everyone who studies the issue knows which is that card checks are more successful for union organizing efforts vs. elections. Your unqualified support for an election is thus dripping with self-serving bias.

In short, your attitude in all things union have been reactionary, unsympathetic, and, in some cases misleading. Thank you for promoting my comment to the front page, it shows the kind of thoughtful reflection that I see in much of your work, but fail to see when it comes to the union.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Elliott. No long response here today: My readers probably think that I have already spent enough time explaining the approach used by the SEIU in its organizing drives elsewhere and now here in Boston. Your points and characterizations are consistent with that approach.

Anonymous said...

What? You insist upon regulations about vote being enforced, and unions strike back?

Are they really that stupid? Or does nobody care that they act like a banana republic junte? (which is sad, because, probably because I'm french, I believe unions are utterly needed in the workplace)

masaccio said...

For me the underlying question is whether a union at BIDMC would enhance your ability to deliver the kind of patient care that is so important to all of us, to strengthen our research program, to improve our education....

Somehow I doubt that this is the standard you used to negotiate the terms of your employment. I suspect you wanted decent working hours, good severance, plausible working conditions, contributions to your retirement, health care and a host of other things. That is the real issue for the workers as well. They don't have your leverage to get as much as you can out of the hospital in wealth as well as the perks of leadership. They will do better with a union. Not as well as you, but better than without one. That is the only question.

Anonymous said...

"Rather than concentrating on workplace matters, like wages and benefits, Toner said, unions now usually attempt to win over a target organization by putting pressure on its individual board members and by calling attention to community issues, like ways to improve healthcare."

It seems to me that BIDMC is taking more initiative in improving the delivery of health care than many other comparable facilities in the region, possibly the world. I can see where you're coming from; the scare-tactics and the convenient political statements they make seem to be quite over-the-top. I'm one of your nurses, and a patient, and I work here and come here because I'm proud of BIDMC as it stands and the direction it seems to be taking for the future. I respect you more for the transparency you display. I can't blame you for being a little defensive, especially with SEIU's tactical history.

That said, I would appreciate more interaction between employees and human resources / benefits / management. That's one thing that I believe a union would improve at this facility, and it's one major swaying point they have.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, lots of comments. Thank you.

First, to anonymous 2:02, thanks for your suggestion. I'd like to hear more ideas, whether here or in person. Particularly in the nursing area, we have tried to do what you say with shared governance councils and the like. So if you have specific ideas on that or anything else, the door is always open.

By the way, if I am coming across as defensive, I don't mean to. I am really just trying to explain and display the union's tactics as they occur.

Dear massacio,

I don't believe that is the "only question." Of course people want good pay and benefits, but people at BIDMC also want to be part of a hospital environment that provides excellent patient care, superior research, and great education. They also want a work environment that is respectful of one another, as well as many other intangible factors. There is a long history of that from both the New England Deaconess Hospital and the Beth Israel Hospital, a culture that persists to this day at BIDMC.

As to what I negotiated for my own employment, that is pretty transparent elsewhere on this blog. I did forget to include "decent working hours", though! Maybe I'll bring that up some day . . .

I hope you didn't mean to suggest that our employees don't get decent working hours, retirement benefits, health benefits, and other standard benefit packages. Given the shortage of qualified people in the health professions in Boston, if we do not remain competitive in these areas, people can choose leave on a moment's notice and go to work at other Boston hospitals -- both unionized and not -- literally withing walking distance of BIDMC. So, we do our best to stay competitive and make this an attractive place for people to work.

Dear pierre,

You've captured the issue perfectly. The issue right now is organizing tactics, not the ultimate vote. By the way, the existence and use of these tactics nationwide and here in Boston have never been disputed, at least on this blog.

Anonymous said...

My vote for most asinine sentence goes to this one:
"But, I don't believe that you should respect someone more or less for opinions stated."

If someone tells me that they 'have a great deal of respect for Hitler' (as someone did recently, in pretty much the worst possible context) I respect him considerably less. If someone tells me that he believes that every American working full time and doing good work should earn a living wage, I probably respect him at least a little more. If someone tells me that the CIA is running a kiddie porn ring and forcing random homeless people to participate in tests of psychotropic mind-control drugs, well, I'm not sure if I respect him less or more than the guy with the Hitler fetish. (Hey, at least he's against kiddie porn rings.)

As far as I can see, there're only three arguments that one could make for not judging someone based on his words:

1) The argument that the person in quesiton isn't educated or intelligent enough to get his point of view across, and therefore you can't blame him for what he says, only what he does. Clearly true in a few cases, but just as clearly not for the vast majority.

2) The argument that he is liable to be lying, exaggerating, or misleading with what he says. Despite the popularity of leveling this at politicians, this is also not generally the way to bet. Unless, of course, the person in question admits to it beforehand.

3) The argument that, in fact, human actions are essentially random, not caused by any motives or at best only hazily predicted by a coherent (and therefore verbalizable) belief system.

Which category do you put yourself in?

Personally, when someone verbalizes an opinion ('I think you deserve to die!'/'I think you deserve a pie!') I generally am willing to base my actions, to the extent necessary (run/stick around), on that statement. You must live in a very confusing place if you aren't so willing.


Anonymous said...

Wow, fred, you have really taken what I said to the extreme and way out of context. We were talking about unionization issues, not hate crime or despots. If Senators Hatch and Kennedy, who disagree on a wide variety of issues, can say so publicly and, indeed to each other, and still have great respect for each other, maybe we can do the same on this blog.