California voters disenfranchised by shady union-hospital deal

California voters have been duped, defrauded and double-crossed — twice — and now they’re being fed an outrageously disingenuous lie to cover it up and explain it away.

Earlier this month, a judge blocked an attempt by Oakland-based Service Employees International Union–United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU–UHW) to place on the November ballot an initiative that would have limited the pay of nonprofit hospital executives.

Why did the judge block it?

Because it’s a bad idea? No.

Because it was written incorrectly? No.

It’s hard to believe, but the courts blocked the ballot initiative because it violated a secretive, collusive arrangement between SEIU–UHW and the California Hospital Association.

In 2014, SEIU–UHW abandoned its watchdog role by agreeing to a gag clause that legally prevented the union and its members from criticizing or filing ballot initiatives “adverse” to the CHA or its member hospitals — in exchange for unfettered access to nonunion healthcare workers throughout the state. Once the CHA signed the agreement, SEIU–UHW abandoned its initiative, which had already qualified for the 2014 ballot.

“Ballot box blackmail,” the Orange County Register called it. An effort “to harness voters’ resentments to advance [the union’s] own parochial interests,” said the Los Angeles Times. Tens of thousands of SEIU members were powerless to prevent SEIU–UHW President Dave Regan from trading away their rights.

Despite a chorus of critics in the media and the labor movement, Regan called the CHA deal “visionary.” He didn’t see the fallout coming.

When SEIU–UHW failed to persuade nonunion workers throughout the state to become members, the union retaliated against the CHA by paying millions of dollars to get the initiative back on the ballot. The mess of threatened lawsuits and counter-lawsuits between SEIU–UHW and the CHA quickly spiraled out of control, culminating in Regan’s alleged assault on an unsuspecting Contra Costa County process server.

California voters are paying the price for the spectacular collapse of this shady backroom deal. More than 600,000 Californians signed petitions to qualify the measure for the ballot in both 2014 and 2016, only to see it snatched away — once by the union officials, who wrote it, and now a second time as an unintended consequence of the union’s self-penned gag clause.

SEIU–UHW officials are now crying foul in an effort to convince voters they were sincere about the ballot measure in the first place. They’re hoping voters will forget the union abandoned the ballot measure once before and were prepared to abandon it this year if they could have strong-armed the CHA again. And they hope voters will have short memories two years from now when SEIU–UHW attempts its ballot-box blackmail scheme again.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers has been a vocal critic of this scheme right from the start. The house of cards that came crashing down around SEIU–UHW and Regan embodies so much of what is wrong with the labor movement today.

Rather than subverting workers’ rights, unions should be democratic and member-driven. Rather than engaging in collusive backroom deals, a union should be open and transparent. Rather than tease and betray voters at the ballot box, a union should be forthright and honest.

Let’s hope Regan and SEIU–UHW learn their lesson and get back to organizing on behalf of healthcare workers rather than hospital executives.

Sal Rosselli is president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, a democratic, member-led union that represents 12,000 healthcare workers throughout California.California Hospital AssociationDave ReganSal RosselliSan FranciscoSEIU–UHWService Employees International Union–United Healthcare Workers West

Just Posted

Dreamforce returned to San Francisco in person this week – but with a tiny sliver of past attendance. PHOTO COURTESY SALESFORCE
Dreamforce returns with hundreds on hand, down from 170,000 in the past

High hopes for a larger Salesforce conference shriveled during the summer

The numbers show nearly 14 percent of San Francisco voters who participated in the Sept. 14 recall election wanted to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom from elected office. (Shutterstock photo)
(Shutterstock photo)
How San Francisco neighborhoods voted in the Newsom recall

Sunset tops the list as the area with the most ‘yes’ votes

Alison Collins, a member of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education, listens during a board meeting. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Alison Collins speaks: Embattled SF school board member confronts the recall effort

‘It’s important for folks to know what this recall is about. It’s bigger than any one of us.’

Passengers board a BART train at Powell Street station on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Powell Station death serves as a grim reminder. BART doors don’t stop for anyone

What you need to know about safety sensors on the trains

A group of Asian American protesters demonstrate outside the Hall of Justice in May 2021 following a series of violent attacks. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Asian American groups activated by violence and prejudice

‘There is a newfound sense of fighting back … push come to shove’

Most Read