By creator to timesofsandiego.com
By Laurel Rosenhall
For the second time in as many elections, California voters are caught in the course of a battle between non-public dialysis corporations and a union with a historical past of taking its battles to the poll.
The query: Is the union successfully utilizing its energy to spice up well being care and its membership, or is it resorting to electoral blackmail?
The Service Workers Worldwide Union-United Healthcare Staff West (SEIU-UHW) sponsored Proposition 23 on the November poll, which might add new laws for dialysis clinics. It put a similar measure before voters in 2018, which they rejected. Within the final two elections, it’s additionally sponsored a measure to tax hospitals within the Los Angeles County city of Lynwood, and to cap costs at Stanford hospitals and clinics in a number of Bay Area cities.
And that doesn’t rely the numerous initiatives it started engaged on by amassing signatures however withdrew earlier than they reached the poll — together with a minimal wage initiative in 2016, a pair of measures to restrict hospital charges and govt pay in 2014, and two different initiatives to curb hospital payments and develop charity care in 2012.
All instructed, these campaigns have value the union at the very least $43 million, and resulted in no wins on the poll in California — although union president Dave Regan says they’ve helped make progress in different methods. The observe has earned him a popularity as an aggressive labor chief who makes use of the initiative course of to needle adversaries within the well being care occupation as he tries to develop membership in his union.
“Dave Regan has made this into a method,” mentioned Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Heart, which researches unions.
He praised Regan for makes an attempt to arrange staff that additionally forged the general public’s consideration on issues within the well being care system.
“He’s keen on poll initiatives as a device for each shifting coverage and gaining leverage in an trade.”
Direct democracy — which permits voters to make legal guidelines by way of initiatives and repeal them by way of referendums — has been a part of California’s political system for greater than a century. The unique thought was that individuals ought to have a technique to move legal guidelines when the Legislature received’t act. Over time, initiatives — generally even simply threats of initiatives — have turn into a method for curiosity teams to exert affect, primarily by placing voters in the course of an trade battle.
“It may well turn into a device of the very highly effective — each on the left and on the correct, each enterprise and labor — to realize a political benefit or to punish enemies,” mentioned Kathay Feng, a director of the federal government watchdog group Widespread Trigger.
“That’s unlucky as a result of it turns voters off after they discover out what’s actually happening.”
Prop. 23 would require dialysis facilities to have a health care provider on web site throughout enterprise hours, which the union argues will make remedy safer and compel the for-profit corporations to prioritize affected person care. Dialysis corporations say the pricey requirement would power them to shut some clinics, and have to this point poured $105 million into combating the measure, arguing it quantities to a hardball transfer by the union to empty trade funds till clinics agree to permit their staff to unionize.
“They’ve been attempting to unionize dialysis clinic workers in California for about 5 years and to this point the workers have mentioned they’re not ,” Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for No on Prop. 23, mentioned by e mail.
“UHW has chosen this damaging path the place they place measures on the poll in an try to attempt to get the industries to acquiesce to their calls for.”
Prop. 23 is hardly the one industry fight on the California ballot this fall. Gig corporations together with Uber and Lyft have funneled almost $190 million and counting right into a measure that will exempt them from facets of state labor regulation. Bail bonds corporations have spent at the very least $10 million on an try to overturn a regulation banning the usage of money bail. Realtors plowed greater than $40 million right into a proposition that will change property tax regulation in a method they assume will improve house gross sales.
What makes Regan uncommon is how ceaselessly he’s used initiatives since he grew to become president of SEIU-UHW in 2011. Most of his union’s California initiatives have focused well being care corporations the place he’d like to realize extra union members.
Nationwide, nevertheless, SEIU-UHW has pushed poll measures with a broader lens. Regan helped launch a nonprofit referred to as the Fairness Project, which has sponsored initiatives in additional than a dozen states to boost the minimal wage or expand who qualifies for government-funded health care by way of the Reasonably priced Care Act.
Regan is pleased with his strategy, arguing that utilizing initiatives to place questions immediately in entrance of voters helps staff and curbs financial inequality.
“It’s a part of the democratic course of,” he mentioned. “All we’re doing is making the most of one thing that’s obtainable to folks in California, and obtainable in quite a lot of different locations within the nation.”
The Equity Mission reviews successful 18 of the 19 initiatives it sponsored nationwide. The union’s win report in California is just not as sturdy, although Regan contends they make tactical positive factors even after they lose or withdraw measures.
Voters rejected three initiatives SEIU-UHW sponsored in 2018, together with two Bay Space measures to cap costs at Stanford medical amenities and the statewide measure to cap income at dialysis clinics. Regardless of the loss, Regan says the marketing campaign publicized the union’s criticism of the for-profit dialysis enterprise, resulting in profitable legislation final 12 months.
The union has withdrawn different initiatives amid negotiations with hospital corporations or politicians.
It pulled again a pair of measures to cap hospital charges and govt salaries in 2014 after the hospital industry agreed to work with the union to foyer the federal government for extra well being care funding. Months earlier, hospital leaders had described the union’s initiatives as threats over stalled efforts to unionize extra staff — a characterization Regan denied on the time. The episode marked the second time the union withdrew poll measures after reaching an settlement with hospital leaders.
The union floated after which withdrew an initiative to raise California’s minimum wage in 2016 after then-Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to signal an identical improve into regulation. Regan mentioned Brown’s workers first referred to as the union’s signature-gathering contractor to see if the proposal had sufficient help to qualify for the poll.
“We had been ready to file them,” Regan mentioned. “And (Brown) simply noticed the writing on the wall and reversed his course. I don’t assume there’s any query in any way that it was the concrete, direct results of what we did.”
The minimal wage deal is Regan’s largest political success in California and an instance of the potential for a pushy type to repay.
Nevertheless it’s additionally led to friction. Democratic Assemblymember Richard Bloom reported to the Legislature in 2018 that Regan shoved him throughout a reception at a Sacramento restaurant, the Sacramento Bee reported on the time. A course of server accused Regan of assaulting him when he tried to serve authorized papers at Regan’s house in 2016. And a sexual harassment lawsuit filed in 2018 by a former SEIU-UHW worker didn’t title Regan as a defendant however mentioned he created a hostile work surroundings for girls.
Not one of the allegations seem to have led to a lot. Assemblyman Bloom declined to remark, and a union spokesperson who mentioned he witnessed the incident on the Sacramento restaurant mentioned Regan by no means touched the legislator. Though police had been referred to as to the incident with the method server, the Contra Costa County District Lawyer didn’t press expenses. And the harassment case in opposition to the union was confidentially settled earlier this 12 months.
What some characterize as Regan’s brusque character and strongarm politics has brought on him to lose potential allies within the labor motion.
“There’s nice resentment towards him due to his ‘my method or the freeway’ type of method of coping with folks,” mentioned Sal Rosselli, who labored with Regan as a part of the bigger SEIU umbrella union for a few years, however now heads the rival Nationwide Union of Healthcare Staff.
Regan’s frequent use of poll measures is “dishonest with voters,” Rosselli mentioned. “He’s not doing it to enhance the standard of well being care… He’s doing it to realize leverage over the employers for top-down organizing rights.”
Michael Lighty, a well being coverage guide who was a director of the California Nurses Affiliation for a few years, has an identical view.
“He pursues a fairly self-interested slim organizational program that tends to be couched in an trade critique, however actually is targeted on rapid tactical aims that will or might not be within the broader curiosity of well being coverage or well being staff,” Lighty mentioned.
“It’s not working and I’m not even certain it’s actually serving themselves properly. I don’t see the progress.”
However Jacobs, of the UC Berkeley Labor Heart, mentioned Regan is highlighting legit well being care issues, together with on the for-profit corporations that management many of the market for dialysis.
“There is no such thing as a contradiction between doing one thing that would assist create leverage round organizing and doing what is true and wanted for affected person care,” Jacobs mentioned. “Each can play out on the similar time.”
CalMatters is a public curiosity journalism enterprise dedicated to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it issues.
Prop. 23 Places Voters in Center of Union Organizing Battle with Dialysis Clinics was final modified: October 25th, 2020 by
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