The California Hospital Association (CHA) and SEIU, United Healthcare Workers - West (SEIU-UHW) announced a truce of sorts in their long-standing battle over two legislative initiatives backed by SEIU-UHW for California's November ballot. The agreement, entitled "A Partnership For A Healthy California," commits the parties to work together to "transform the landscape for the future of healthcare in California."
The ostensible purpose of the initiatives, The Charity Care Act of 2012 and The Fair Pricing Act of 2012, was to ensure affordable healthcare. The Charity Care Act would have required that covered facilities spent at least 5 percent of patient revenue on low income patients. The Fair Pricing Act would have prohibited covered facilities from charging fees that were more than 25 percent above the actual cost of services. Opponents have pointed out that the measures appear to have targeted facilities SEIU-UHW has been unable to organize, while exempting facilities where union members work.
Under the terms of the partnership agreement, SEIU-UHW will not seek to qualify the initiatives for the November 2012 election by filing signatures in several of California's most densely populated counties or with the office of California's Secretary of State. The quid pro quo for SEIU-UHW's stand-down is that CHA "acknowledges the goals of SEIU-UHW relative to unionization of employees," and will "facilitate" meetings between SEIU-UHW and CEOs of health systems employing 100,000 nonunion employees. The partnership agreement further acknowledges specific organizing goals of SEIU-UHW: beginning in 2013, 20,000 non union workers would have the opportunity to participate in representation elections. That number would increase to 35,000 in 2014 and 45,000 in 2015. The elections would be held under a "negotiated 'code of conduct'" between SEIU-UHW and the individual hospitals or health systems.
Both parties deny that the partnership is an organizing endeavor, but that seems doubtful. Indeed, the partnership is highly reminiscent of the 2004 Agreement to Advance the Future of Nursing Home Care in California, sometimes referred to as the "Alliance," which was intended to increase union representation in the skilled nursing industry. Alliance members included predecessor locals of SEIU-UHW and a group of skilled nursing facility operators. In exchange for SEIU-UHW applying its political influence to increase Medi-Cal reimbursement rates, Alliance members agreed that a certain percentage of their facilities could be organized through a card check process. The Alliance achieved Medi-Cal reform, but ultimately stumbled under the combined weight of the 2008 recession and the schism that led to the creation of the National Union of Healthcare Workers.
A key difference between the partnership and the Alliance is that CHA has not (and cannot) commit its members to specific organizing targets. So, too, however, the stated goals of the partnership are fluid and vague: CHA does not appear to have secured for its members a specific commitment to political action by SEIU-UHW. Moreover, the National Labor Relations Board's new election rules went into effect on April 30, 2012. Thus, employers negotiating "codes of conduct" for representation elections will have less leverage than did Alliance members in 2004.