Thursday, February 19, 2009

Innocent until the SEIU says otherwise

Given the inclination of the SEIU to run roughshod over freedom of speech and to undermine the use of elections, I guess I shouldn't be surprised when it attempts to ignore the "innocent until proven guilty" premise of American life, as well. The Executive Vice President of the union sent a letter this week to our Board of Directors, and later released it to the press, naming one of our Overseers by name and suggesting that the Board "conduct your own investigation" to determine whether this person is still suitable for membership in this organization of lay supporters of the hospital.

I am reminded of a quote from another setting and another era: "You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

Let me explain. The Board of Overseers is not a governing body. It has no fiduciary responsibility for the hospital. People who volunteer to serve on our Board of Overseers do so out of loyalty to and affection for our hospital. Some are recent members and some have been members for years. They contribute time, money, good will, ideas, suggestions, and energy to the public service mission of the hospital.

Sometimes, people on our Board of Overseers go through hard times in their lives. They might have financial troubles, marital troubles, and even legal troubles. When they do, we stand by them as they have stood by us. We consider them members of our extended family. From time to time, an Overseer might resign because he or she feels that they can no longer ably serve the institution. Our practice is to let people make that decision because we know that they have tremendous loyalty to BIDMC, and we trust their judgment on such matters.

We do not and will not conduct an investigation of anybody on our Board of Overseers. Contrary to the SEIU's suggestion, we do not pretend to arrogate to ourselves the powers of law enforcement or regulatory bodies. Those bodies are given their statutory authority by the Constitution or by law, and we trust them to do their job well.

We also do not issue press releases suggesting that any other organization -- hospital, business, or union -- conduct an investigation of one of their members or one of their advisors. To do so would simply be indecent.


e-Patient Dave said...

For anyone who hasn't heard me say it before, SEIU gives organized labor a bad name. I'm pro-union because of what unions can do to overcome injustice and malfeasance by employers, but there's something really fishy about why SEIU would pick this hospital of all the Boston hospitals, because I've had occasion to meet a hundred BIDMC employees, and I've overheard many others, and only one bitched about their job. I can't say that about any bank, store, etc. that I've frequented.

In contrast to that, I've heard former SEIU members here talk about how hard it was when they were a union member and were no longer allowed to even speak to their boss without a union rep present. Just think how much that would obstruct the conduct of a healthcare worker's job!

Plus, there can be no non-manipulative reason for SEIU to be opposed to secret ballot. The evidence is that they are about power, not human decency. And we need NO more of THAT attitude in healthcare.

I feel so strongly about this that when I was attending the TEPR+ medical records conference in Palm Springs this month, and Edwina Rogers of PCPCC spoke and showed that SEIU was on their side, I immediately emailed Paul Grundy, their chair, urging him to drop that affiliation. (I'm a patient advisor to PCPCC.) And when I urge someone I like to DROP a powerful supporter, that's something.

As I've said before, let's remember what JFK said in his inaugural address, in a different context, warning "that those who sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside."

Anonymous said...

I heard about this on NPR the other day and it almost made me laugh. I guess the SEIU feels that if they throw enough stones they will hit something.

As an employee here I think the only thing they have done is to make the employees stand strong together and with a very good senior management team.

Keith said...

As you know I'm relatively new to this blog and since becoming a regular reader I have respectively (I hope) disagreed with you on several issues, usually around how to implement changes, if they are necessary, and at what pace.
On this topic however, I could not agree more with you. SEIU is a group of strong-arm thugs (and that's not too harsh) who have no real understanding about how healthcare works who desire only to take advantage of what is one of the only relatively stable industries that they deem as an easy target. It is about power, greed, and more greed. One need only look to New York City to see the mess that the SEIU can create in a large healthcare market. Ask those institutions what the SEIU has done to improve anything. Ask the employees they proport to represent what has changed for the better. You'll find the answers to those questions to be short, if existent. Unfortunately for our friends at Caritas, they are about to find out that it'll be all sunshine to start but it won't take long to get ugly and messy.
Unions have their place, no doubt, and one can argue where that place is within healthcare. But in this case I feel its even less about the concept of unionized healthcare, but even more so about which union.
Keep up the good fight.

Anonymous said...

Even though you would never think of reversing the tactic, I wonder if the board members of the other Boston hospitals have affiliations with this union and are harassing you because they don't want to become transparent? They seem to like keeping secrets about patient harm. When corruption is removed, healthcare will become safer and board members with values will prosper. I see some interesting PI work here.

Anonymous said...

If any of you are interested in another perspective on the Employee Free Choice Act, which Paul often criticizes, and on the labor movement more generally, check out You could even read it during your weekend off, which, as one popular bumper sticker reminds us, was brought to us by labor unions.

e-Patient Dave said...

Hey, anon 5:31, you bet! Couldn't agree more about the labor movement bringing us the weekend. That's what I said above.

Those good things have nothing in common with advocating against a secret ballot. Don't change the subject.

Who are you, btw? Why not identify yourself?

Anonymous said...

After working in an SEIU controlled hospital, I'm convinced SEIU will do to health care what UAW did to the American automobile industry.
They will halt improvements by squelching debate, infantalizing workers, crush process engineering and driving up costs.
Health care will be unsafe and no one will be able to afford it. re.

e-Patient Dave said...

Anon 12:09, can you say something more specific about what it was like in that hospital? It would help people know what they're voting for.

the man from Utz said...


Whatever the other issues, with the union, with the quality of health care, with the unfortunate repercussions with a financial crisis that has caused harm and embarrassment to many, it is very nice to know that there are some people and institutions who are loyal to their friends; it is unfortunately rare these days.


Anonymous said...

e-patient dave, I hope if you haven't already done so that you will go and read the article and get another perspective on the employee free choice act. Rather than changing the subject, as you suggest, I was adding to the conversation. Anonymous 5:31

e-Patient Dave said...

Anon 5:31, thanks for your courteous reply. I apologize for saying you changed the subject.

And, I did read the article. I've always felt I understand the reasoning behind the Act. It just irks the crap out of me to see good intentions hijacked and perverted by liars like SEIU.

And yes, I thought several times before I decided to use that particular L-word.

Anonymous said...

Working for the kind of success and reputation in the community that BIDMC has carries with it the problem that lots of people want a piece of you without having to earn it. The SEIU wants "a piece of the action". It would be one thing if this were a West Virginia coal mine in a company town. BIDMC is the opposite of that, pursuing a mission to elevate the practice of medicine and the public health, with unprecedented openness and transparency.

If other hospitals that have been parasitized by the SEIU are complicit in this current push for competitive reasons, as another person suggested above, that would be very disturbing. Have we fallen so far that being a better hospital constitutes an "unfair" labor practice?

Also disturbing is the fact that today there seems to be a large influx of SEIU reps coming in to the hospital to sell their union to employees. I passed two while walking to the lab.

Anonymous said...

E-patient Dave-
SEIU's efforts to halt process improvement at my former hospital included:
1. Threats to remove from union jobs any members who actively participated in process improvement sessions. The union deemed these sessions as attempts to eliminate union jobs. Though the Hospital made an absolute commitment not to do this, the union perceived process improvement as a threat to the future growth of union jobs.
When we pressed the issue, SEIU allowed union members to attend sessions, but not to actively participate. The shop steward attended all sessions, sitting in the corner, taking notes. One union member, who actively participated in one of the process improvement sessions, in spite of threats, was cornered after the meeting by the shop steward and three of the most militant rank and file. They castigated her for not acting loyally, and pointed out that as a single mother the loss of her union job would affect not only herself, but also her young children. All four tires on her car were flattened that evening. Subsequently they began to undermine her work. They would ask her to pick up an item in central supply and then tell her supervior she had been coming to work late. Ultimately, the employee lost her job both for "poor performance" and "union disloyalty".
2. Nurse managers who pushed back on this process or who worked too hard to engage their teams of unionized nurses found themselves having to cover July 4th, Christmas, etc. because of "union flu".
3. Managers who pushed too hard to engage their team of unionized staff were hit by flurries of anonymous complaints of all sorts- to IT for "inappropriate use of work computer", to Billing about billing integrity, to HR for sexual harrassment. None of it stuck, except the message itself- "don't mess with the SEIU".
4. Ultimately, the most engaged workers left the Hospital to join SEIU-free organization. The union members who remained were the most militant. Initially the minority, they became more numerous and more emboldened, as fewer dared push back on the union.
The effect on the culture of caring and excellence we had strived to build was deadly.
Though we had spent months attempting to pave the way in meetings with union leadership before beginning the initiative, ultimately subterfuge and tyrany killed it.
Well meaning Board members and senior hospital leadership, like us, for the most part liberally- minded, with a natural bias toward labor rights, couldn't understand what had happened.
Rhetoric won over reality. Politics over performance.
I voted for Obama, but now I fear this artifice will reach into the White House.
Encouraging the growth of unions may help some, but elimination of an individual's choice in this matter will allow this tyranical group to take the US health care system hostage.

Anonymous said...

Dear Paul, I am a graduate student attempting to reach hospital execs (directors, vp's and officers)about taking a survey for my dissertation data collection.

Do you think that a blog would be an interesting way to reach some of these people?

I'm researching links between strategic processes, knowledge resources, and performance.

Thanks, I look forward to your comments--my email is

Warm regards, Garry

e-Patient Dave said...

Anon 12:14,

I don't know what to say... your story is disturbing, and leaves me unsettled.

Thanks for taking the time. I knew that the bogus web tactics and advertising and radio ads were flagrant lies, but I didn't know it extended to on-the-job harrassment and flattening tires. That's just plain thuggery, extortion, acquiring power through threats and fear.

I'll tell ya, for "Employee Free Choice" to be a truth, it can't stop on election day.

Toni Brayer, MD said...

SEIU targeting a member of your Board of Overseers is shameful. You are right to bring their tactics to the light of day.