Healthcare Business News
Dave Regan, SEIU-UHW

Calif. Hospital Association, union reach deal on organizing rules

By Melanie Evans
Posted: May 6, 2014 - 5:45 pm ET

The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West announced it will drop its push for two California ballot initiatives to cap hospital prices and executive compensation under a new deal with hospitals to create an organizing “code of conduct.”

Dave Regan, president of the labor group, and C. Duane Dauner, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association, unveiled the deal, which includes a jointly funded $100 million campaign to boost Medicaid reimbursement and promote reforms to the safety-net insurer. If unsuccessful, the state's hospitals and the union agreed to pursue a Medicaid ballot initiative in 2016, Regan said.

The new deal, which was signed Monday night, includes facilities that operate a majority of the state's hospital beds. The hospital association declined to name the hospitals that signed the agreement, which will end Dec. 31, 2017.

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The partners hailed the accord as a potential model for labor-management relations. “What we've done here today will hopefully also serve as an example of what can be accomplished when people hang in there,” said Regan. The union and the hospital association had previously entered into a joint agreement that Dauner acknowledged was disappointing, though the prior agreement led to some progress, he said. Regan touted their efforts as a means to bolster workplace and retirement stability for union members and ease tension at the bargaining table.

Dauner defended hospitals that opted not to participate as entitled to their own opinions, and said the association will pursue the agreement's goals on behalf of those hospitals that entered into the deal. “New relationships must prove themselves,” he said. “We intend for that to play out over the next several years as we work together.”

No reimbursement targets or strategic priorities have been identified yet for the Medicaid campaign, which will potentially pursue state and federal changes, said California Hospital Association spokeswoman Jan Emerson-Shea.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers, an SEIU rival, issued a statement calling the agreement “comparable to an act of treason.” “This agreement will undermine the rights of workers and will eliminate the union’s watchdog role on behalf of patients,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said in the statement. “Moving forward, SEIU will quietly collect dues, but will do little to raise questions.”

Issues raised by the previously scrapped ballot initiatives will be jointly addressed by the new partners through legislation or other options, Regan said.

The code of conduct, which will govern organizers' communication with hospital employees, would seek to transform historically tense and negative conduct by unions and employers into more constructive and positive relationships, Regan said. “What normally characterizes unionizing efforts is a high degree of conflict, a high degree of tension,” he said. “We think that most people don't want a conflict-laden relationship.” The partners declined to publicly release the code of conduct.

Regan said little about how the code would be adopted or enforced, but the agreement does not limit either employers or the union from taking any actions, such as strikes, allowed under labor laws.

Follow Melanie Evans on Twitter: @MHmevans

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