Three down, and now two to go?
With last week's signing of a master agreement between Catholic Healthcare West and California's largest healthcare union, CHW joins Kaiser Permanente and Tenet Healthcare Corp. in declaring peace with the Service Employees International Union.
That leaves two other large California systems without a comprehensive agreement with the SEIU-Sutter Health, Sacramento, and the Daughters of Charity Health System, Los Altos Hills, Calif.
The SEIU left no doubt that those systems are now in its cross hairs, saying the union and its members will focus on them.
Sutter Health would never be interested in a master agreement like the one signed by CHW because decisions on labor agreements at its 23 hospitals-22 of them in California-are made by local governing boards, not at a system level, spokeswoman Karen Garner said.
Bain Ferris, president and chief executive officer of seven-hospital Daughters of Charity, said his system's decentralized governance also precludes a system-wide deal with the SEIU.
Raahi Reddy, a labor specialist with the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California-Berkeley, said the CHW deal continues the momentum toward unionization in California healthcare. Just six years ago, Reddy said, CHW had a total of 700 unionized employees at three hospitals.
The contract between San Francisco-based CHW and the SEIU covers 14,000 healthcare workers at 28 hospitals. The demand for healthcare workers plays a role, Reddy said, because hospitals have to compete for workers, not just on pay and benefits but working conditions.
"I think it's going to be a lot harder for Sutter to be a holdout in this process, because now the momentum has shifted," Reddy said.
The new contract, which replaces 14 separate contracts between the two parties, guarantees SEIU workers an average wage increase of 20% over the contract's four years as well as other significant benefit improvements. CHW also agreed to allow caregivers a greater voice in staffing decisions and create a $4 million training fund to help workers return to school and advance their careers.
In addition, CHW and the SEIU agreed to work together to defend SB 2, the state's controversial mandatory insurance law that opponents are seeking to repeal through a referendum on the November ballot. So far, hospitals have had little to say about the referendum. The California Healthcare Association has yet to take a position on the referendum, but the issue is on the agenda for the group's July board meeting, spokeswoman Jan Emerson said. The CHA supports the concept of universal coverage built on an employer mandate, Emerson said, but the law fails to subsidize coverage from the smallest businesses. As a result, Emerson said, the law doesn't reach universal coverage.
The SEIU reached its deal with Kaiser Permanente in 1997. The union's deal with Tenet was signed last year and covers all of its hospitals in California and a few in Florida.