Shortly after reaching a truce with much of the hospital industry last month, California's largest healthcare union vowed to step up its criticism of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and two hospital chains that balked at the agreement.
On an internal conference call leaked to the media, a leader of the Service Employees International Union lashed out at the three holdouts and talked about using the new deal to bring them "to heel."
The recording disclosed some information not previously made public. It also showed the animosity that still exists and how fragile this partnership may be — despite the fanfare with which the deal was announced.
Under the agreement, the California Hospital Assn. and a majority of the state's 430 hospitals approved a new "code of conduct" to make it easier for the union to organize thousands of workers. The agreement aims to eliminate the negative campaigning and bitter attacks between these longtime adversaries.
In return, the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West dropped its proposed statewide ballot initiatives to limit hospital charges and cap what nonprofit hospitals pay their executives.
The conference call among union officials May 6 was led by Dave Regan, president of SEIU's United Healthcare Workers West. The recording was shared anonymously with The Times, and SEIU didn't dispute its authenticity.
On the call, Regan said that the hospital industry will contribute $80 million toward a joint lobbying effort that will seek increased Medi-Cal funding and SEIU will provide $20 million. The two sides previously had declined to provide that breakdown.
The union and hospital group had also refused to identify participating hospitals. But Regan singled out Cedars-Sinai, Prime Healthcare Services Inc. and the Providence Health & Services hospital chain as the top three "bad actors" who didn't sign on.
He went on to say that other hospitals should pressure those three to fall in line — or those hospitals will be subject to more SEIU protests that draw public attention.
In January, SEIU held a rally outside Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank to criticize "outrageous pricing" by Cedars-Sinai, Prime and Providence that it said was harming patients.
In his May conference call, Regan said "we've got to sit down with the leadership of not just (the California Hospital Assn.) but all the major providers and say, 'Now what are we going to do about Cedars, Prime and Providence?'"
Regan warned: "We're going to continue to be public and beat them up and raise all the stuff that drives you crazy or you're going to figure out how to get those guys to heel.… These guys are just not good citizens."
As part of the accord, Regan said on the call, his union could gain access to 60,000 to 70,000 new hospital workers for organizing. SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West represents about 90,000 hospital workers in California now and 150,000 members overall.
In return for greater access to workers, SEIU will help hospitals lobby for an additional $6 billion from the state in annual Medi-Cal reimbursement, which the union says could free up more money for wages and benefits.
"There is a big prize on the horizon called reforming Medi-Cal that is worth $6 billion," Regan said on the conference call.
Nathan Selzer, a spokesman for SEIU, said the recording is accurate and Cedars-Sinai, Prime and Providence are "now isolated as the only important providers who are not joining the effort to fix Medi-Cal."
But he said the union has not asked the California Hospital Assn. "to take any specific action regarding the three major outliers."
Jan Emerson-Shea, a spokeswoman for the hospital trade group, declined to comment on Regan's remarks. She said the agreement "does not provide for any guaranteed access to non-unionized workers."
Some rival unions and patient advocates have faulted SEIU for making this deal and for being too cozy with hospital management.
Regan "is bragging about how he fixed the playing field with the hospital cartel so his union could have an inside track," said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica advocacy group.
A spokesman for Prime Healthcare said Regan should have to answer for "his threat to bully Prime and other hospitals to 'heel' and his efforts to get CHA's assistance in that scheme."
Prime Healthcare and a related nonprofit foundation own or operate 26 hospitals in California and five other states.
Cedars-Sinai said it successfully negotiated a labor agreement with SEIU recently. "We look forward to continue working constructively and collaboratively with a wide variety of organizations, including SEIU-UHW," a Cedars spokesman said.
Providence said it supports "employees' right to decide whether or not to be represented by unions.... Providence is a good citizen." The nonprofit Catholic chain runs six Southern California hospitals and 32 overall in California and four other states.
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