In today’s Huffington Post, there is a wonderful story about the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), the union of nurses, technicians and other hospital workers at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System who are refusing to accept management’s proposals for layoffs and cuts to pensions and health benefits after discovering that the hospital’s outgoing CEO, Sam Downing, is getting paid nearly $4 million. By the union making an issue about executive salaries, “[t]he hospital’s top officials now face a firestorm in the local media and an audit from the state of California. The layoffs and benefit cuts are, at least for now, on hold.”
Contrast this with what recently happened in New York State, where the hospital workers union, the very powerful 1199/SEIU, sat on a task force with hospital executives to decide on Medicaid cuts, where together they agreed to support budget cuts in exchange for taking away the rights of sick and injured patients (who may nor may not be union members, by the way), even though the same amount of money could have been saved by capping executive salaries. (I mean, the research and legislative solution were right there. See a full executive salary list here.) Not a peep out of the union on this, however.
I think 1199/SEIU leaders need to spend some time in the Salinas Valley, soaking up their labor history and re-learning the role of unions in trying to make life better for our country’s most vulnerable - instead of selling them out. As Huffington notes, this area of the country, "has a long history of labor struggles, with conflict between big agricultural growers and working-class farmers going back decades. John Steinbeck, who wrote extensively about the plight of migrant workers, chose to set several of his stories in the Salinas area, including ‘Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘East of Eden.’ Cesar Chavez led local farmers in a massive strike there during the early 1970s. … Like the farmers of yesteryear, Salinas hospital workers plan on striking rather than making significant concessions.”
We’re behind you, Salinas hospital workers!