Word on the street is that union President Dave Regan's Faustian bargain with the California hospital industry -- cuddle up with hospitals' management to keep patient problems quiet and receive more than 60,000 new hospital workers -- is now teetering on the brink of collapse. Apparently Regan shut up, but the hospitals didn't put up the new workers. Good riddance.
Inside sources says talks between the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW)and the California Hospital Association (CHA), the industry's lobbying group, have stalled. Now UHW is talking again about qualifying popular statewide ballot initiatives to go after the industry and looking for allies. The union had threatened to put the initiatives, which would have limited hospital charges and capped what nonprofit hospitals pay their executives, on the 2014 ballot, but pulled back when they got a deal. (Or possibly when they failed to get enough signatures in a colossal signature gathering snafu and needed to save face.) At the time, Regan said the strategy forced the hospital industry to concede to its demands. Guess not.
Regan may be threatening to take those two initiatives out of the closet again as a club for the hospitals, but it's not clear he has the money or connections to actually get them to the ballot. No one with any juice wants to work with Regan anymore. He had 70,000 of his 150,000 members recently stripped from UHW and has lost any leverage to gain more members. Can you hear the death rattle for the corporate collaborator?
The labor-management deal with the hospital industry is a business model to stop the public and regulators from knowing about quality of care problems at hospitals -- one pioneered by UHW at Kaiser Permanente for years. It requires problems hospital workers witness to be aired only internally. In return for greater access to workers in the now-collapsing deal, UHW agreed to help hospitals lobby for an additional $6 billion from the state in annual Medi-Cal funding, which goes to reimburse healthcare providers for treating low-income patients. The union said it would free up more money for wages and benefits.
On a conference call with his union leaders about the agreement in 2014, a secret recording of which was sent to me and the media, Regan said that the hospital industry was expected to contribute $80 million and SEIU $20 million toward a lobbying/ political effort that will seek increased Medi-Cal payments. Now that Regan has lost half his members, it's unclear if he can even get the money to pay the union's share. In addition, medical groups have already filed an statewide ballot initiative that would impose a $2-a-pack tobacco tax that would increase funds for Medi-Cal.
The most pernicious part of the Pax-Lucifer was that Regan agreed the union would never oppose any hospital industry political position or have a public difference of opinion in the policy world. That's led his union's name to be affiliated with many anti-patient positions, including opposition to health insurance rate regulation, patient safety protections and good consumer bills. His slap down by SEIU leaders was well deserved. Now he's getting the other side of the hand from the hospital industry. It's a cautionary tale. But Regan doesn't strike me as guy who knows his Faust.