Sunday, October 26, 2008

Eye on SEI

The picture above is of the mobile billboard hired by the SEIU to publicize its "Eye on BI" campaign. The union sent it to be visible at a fund-raising event held Friday night for our affiliated community hospital, BID~Needham.

Let's think about this. The attendees at this event are loyal supporters of this community hospital. They serve as voluntary members of its governing bodies, and they donate their hard-earned money to the hospital because they believe in its mission and have confidence in the management and staff. They know that SEIU opposed the issuance of bonds to finance the expansion of the hospital's emergency room and other services. They come out for a pleasant evening together to support the hospital, and they see the SEIU spending money on a mobile billboard to denigrate the reputation of the academic medical center that has also provided millions of dollars in support of their community hospital.

(In case you are wondering, a mobile billboard like this can be purchased for stints of 220 hours of travel time. The rental cost is $12,100 per 220 hours. There is also a $3,500 production fee for the panels.)

Is this effective? Well, you can be sure that attendees at this gathering were not impressed and remain very loyal to the institution. Well, how about the workers at BIDMC itself?

To answer that, in the post immediately below this one, I am sharing the responses I have received from staff members about SEIU's advertising campaign -- beyond those comments on my blog posting a few days back. The short summary: Even staff members who are sympathetic to unions are put off and insulted by the campaign.

So, is this a strategic error on the part of SEIU? After all, why would you want to alienate the very work force you are ultimately trying to recruit or from who you are trying to obtain support?

The answer, as I have explained in earlier posts, is in the nature of a corporate campaign. The object at this point is not to organize the workers: It is to organize the company by attempting to degrade its reputation in the community, in the hope of getting concessions in the certification process. In this case, too, there may be an interest in showing other hospitals in Boston what the union can do if it wants to spend money trying to hurt your reputation.

Once upon a time, unions would try to organize workers. Their organizers would actually spend time getting to know the workers, trying to build trust, and thereby enhance the likelihood of winning a certification election. SEIU, though, does not start by trying to organize the workers. It tries to organize the company using the methods we are now seeing. Beyond the mobile billboard, SEIU has spent tens of thousands of dollars in just one month on misleading advertising at bus stops, on radio, and on television about topics that have little or nothing to do with workers' concerns.

So, maybe we need a new slogan: Boston needs to keep an eye on SEI. After all, a union that spends this kind of money to undermine the reputation of a respected part of the health care system, that leads dedicated people working in that hospital to feel insulted and attacked, and that denigrates its volunteer community leadership needs to be watched very, very closely.


Anonymous said...

Very well stated. Paul, I was hoping you could answer something for me. Why would our union (not BIDMC) spend so much effort trying to undermine our hospital's current Magnet status? Even though we have come to some agreements and seemingly have a good working relations, the Magnet status seems to be something they don't want us to maintain. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure, and obviously I am not familiar with your particular circumstances or even what hospital you are from. To the extent you are accurate on this point, perhaps it is because Magnet status represents an objective set of performance standards that have to be met, and therefore the union might feel it weakens its bargaining position with regard to changes in work rules that might be needed from time to time to maintain the high standards expected under that status. I welcome other thoughts on this question.

Anonymous said...

Previously I worked in a hospital where SEIU was heavily entrenched. The hospital next store had a different union. The difference was night and day. SEIU was malicious and self serving. SEIU leadership would do anything to appear to workers like they were "saving the day", even if it jeopardized patient care and disrupted operations. Safety to them was defined by two metrics- the number of union workers and the seniority of these workers in the union. Period. On more than one occasion SEIU leadership threatened to pull workers out of union jobs if they "displayed union disloyalty" by discussing sentinal events or errors, though our intent was to improve processes not blame individuals. Improvement efforts came to a screaming halt as hospital leadership became intimidated by their ruffian tactics. SEIU poses the most signficant danger to patient safety in the health care system today.

nana said...

gee - front page above the fold, no less!! Patricia Wen a friend of yours?
I'm proud of our hospital and your leadership and openness and sense of humor. I've not had the pleasure of meeting any of the SEIU folks but my response to them would be unprintable.
If the issue actually were put to a vote at BI, I'm fairly certain I would say "no" but absolutely certain that if the union being voted on were SEIU it's a loud NO WAY.
Keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

As a participant in the Needham event I can tell you that people were quite surprised and upset by this action. People come every year to show support for the local hospital and to help us raise money to take care of our patients. Trying to distract us from that goal shows a lack of respect and concern for all of us who are part of the hospital as well as a total disregard for our patients.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Paul Levy our hospital is a wonderful place to work. Do we have problems? Of course, what large organization would not. The SEIU is attacking a non-profit institution that has better things to spend its money on then defending itself from a smear campaign. Mr. Levy, I was wondering if you would be willing to write a letter to a newspaper that we as employees could sign in support of this hospital? You may have done this already and I missed it, but I think you would have A LOT of support and it would show that this campaign is not effective.

Anonymous said...

Not surprising they use these tactics in their corporate campaigns. Here is what some of their own members say about SEIU leadership:

Members Sue National SEIU Officers
September 28, 2008

OAKLAND - Twenty-eight elected rank-and-file members of SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) filed a lawsuit against SEIU President Andy Stern and Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger charging the two national officers violated SEIU members’ right to free speech and equal participation in their union, guaranteed by Title I of the U.S. Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday charges that Stern “has engaged in a relentless and pervasive campaign that … intimidated and chilled dissent and criticism of his policies, decisions and actions.” Further, the suit charges that Stern used millions of dollars of SEIU members’ dues money to finance this internal war aimed at orchestrating the “implosion” of the 150,000-member healthcare union.

“A union is supposed to be a way for workers to strengthen our own voices by joining together,” said Michael Torres, a respiratory therapist at USC University Hospital in Los Angeles and a plaintiff in the suit. “It’s unbelievable that Andy Stern and Anna Burger would go to these extremes to weaken our union and silence SEIU members. These attacks are worse than what we’ve seen from even our worst anti-union employer.”

Anonymous said...

They are wasting their money and not even worrying about their workers in reality. Your hospital continues to do a fantastic job serving it's community and the well being of its employees, continue to do a great job. Let the union spend ridiculous amounts of money on useless ads.

Anonymous said...

As a new employee, I was convinced that BIDMC was the place for me by the numerous employees I met during the interview process who told me they'd been with the hospital for 5, 10, 20, or 25 years and spoke with pride of the medical center in general and their jobs in particular. When I began to wonder if I would be accepted as an outsider, I then met a relative newcomer who raved about the support she received in her position, more and better than she'd had elsewhere. Your employees are a tremendous asset proud of the high quality, patient-centered care they deliver. There's no need for a union.

Anonymous said...

A Tsunami of Union Organizing On the Way

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Levy:

I finally heard an "eye on BI" advertisement on the radio yesterday and wanted to throw up. I was fortunate enough to do two clinical nursing rotations at the BIDmc for graduate school and I could not have asked for a more positive, nurturing, enlightening environment to learn in. Your staff is marvelous. Everyone was kind, welcoming and focused on providing the best patient care possible. Having done clinical rotations in unionized hospitals and having had the unfortunate experience of actually working in an SEIU unionized hospital, the difference is palpable. There are so many other useful things SEIU could be doing with the exorbitant dues they extort from their members. I wish they would. I know it costs a great deal of money to mount an ad campaign to discredit all of the garbage that SEIU is throwing at BID. In this challenging economic climate, that money is needed in other venues. How about a one time, full page ad in the gGobe denouncing their tactics, signed by BID employees,just telling the SEIU to shut up. Keep up the great work.

Lachlan Forrow, MD, FACP said...

Today I received in my e-mail the following statement from SEIU with a link to their site (from the BIDMC media relations department, without any editorial comment, just as part of keeping people like me informed!):

Patients and community members are making their voices heard (
Since the launch of, patients, BIDMC staff and community members have written into this site to express their thoughts and opinions about BIDMC. Many patients say they are relieved there is finally a place to communicate their experiences, both positive and negative. Responses have also praised the tireless dedication of hospital staff, despite the shortcomings and mistakes of the current administration. We have received many stories from BIDMC workers and patients about instances when the administration has not put first the needs of patients or staff. Please continue to write in your experiences with BIDMC, all submissions are carefully read.


I lost the reply I posted on the EyeonBI website in cut-and-pasting, but it was roughly:

"This is truly pathetic. Will you ever let people know about the many truly positive comments I'm sure you have gotten from BIDMC staff about BIDMC leadership and administration, or will you only qualify positive comments about things like the "tireless dedication of hospital staff" by saying that this is "DESPITE" the "shortcomings and mistakes of the current administration", implying that those who gave positive comments always offered that qualification?

You are discrediting yourselves when you so consistently present information that is so clearly biased and misleading.

As someone who believes that much of the improvements in our society are thanks to the very good work that many unions have so often done, I am deeply, deeply disappointed in this campaign. I think it is an embarrassment to the union movement, and is going to weaken rather than strengthen the cause of union representation of workers, which in some industries and companies is so badly needed. I myself was agnostic about whether unionization would be good or bad for BIDMC and its workers until you so effectively converted me to an opponent.

You might consider trying to learn something about honesty and transparency from BIDMC's own transparency, in Paul Levy's blog and elsewhere, and try to emulate that. It would not only be an important antidote to your currently ethically-challenged methods, it would likely help the increasingly-remote chances that your cause might be successful.

But I doubt that you will even let people know about thoughts like these. Please surprise me!

Lachlan Forrow, MD
Director, Ethics and Palliative Care Programs

Associate Professor of Medicine
Harvard Medical School

Anonymous said...

George McGovern has taken aim at legislation that would deprive potential labor union members of private votes on union organization. The longtime liberal blasts "card check" as tantamount to a "sacrifice of democracy," saying working people deserve a private vote.

The Employee Free Choice Act (which involves neither freedom nor choice..discuss) would make it possible for employees to unionize by simply signing a card instead of by secret ballot, opening the door to bullying and arm-twisting of those voting "no" at the hands of union bosses, both before and after a vote succeeds.

Democrats, licking their chops at the prospects of controlling the Senate, House and Presidency, would like to reward the labor unions with such a measure, which would constitute the biggest change in labor laws since the 1940s.

Unions, faltering in the face of falling memberships, have been pushing EFCA for several years during the Bush administration, gaining ground slowly, but always falling short of the 60-vote threshold in the Senate needed for an up-or-down vote. Even if the act had passed both houses, it would surely have met with a Bush veto.

Many will be surprised by McGovern's reasonable take on this issue, as a self-proclaimed supporter of unions, but Dave Weigel reminds us that of late, McGovern's liberalism hasn't been what it used to be.

In this case, McGovern is exactly what unions claim to be, but often aren't in practice— pro-worker.

Contact your Senators and Represenatives in Congress and urge them to vote against the EFCA.

EB said...

I wonder how aware the union members are of the costs of this smear marketing which THEY are funding with their union dues?

Is the union required to file reports (similar to non-profits or publicly traded companies) showing details regarding its financial expenditures and cash position?

Anonymous said...

Its ironic that Paul and many higher ups at BIDMC support Obama and look forward to the Democrats strenghtening their hold on Capital Hill yet it is they who will give the SEIU the power they need to infiltrate BIDMC and undermine all the wonderful things that this great institution has been trying to accomplish

Anonymous said...

I have made it clear in a post above that readers of this blog will not know who I support or vote for. Your are free to assume what you want on that front. As I have made VERY clear, I disagree with Obama on his desire to pass the so-called "Employee Free Choice Act."