Mountain View Voice

Opinion - February 17, 2012

Misplaced fight over hospital pay

As much as we sympathize with the workers at El Camino Hospital who believe that the CEO's $695,000 annual pay is far too high, we cannot support their attempt to put an initiative on the November ballot which would seek to cap it at no more than twice the rate of the California governor.

First, it is the job of the hospital's elected board members, not the union, to hire and set the pay for the chief executive officer of the hospital. And while we continue to have issues with the board about transparency, it would do immeasurable harm to the district if the CEO's salary was subject to the whim of a union apparently disgruntled about a loss in benefits.

In addition, no decent candidate for CEO would even consider the El Camino job if the union's initiative passes the top scale is less than $350,000 a year. We know that sounds like a lot, but in the rarified air of hospital CEOs, compensation at this level has not been seen for years. Back in 2005, when the Voice filed a legal action against the El Camino board for refusing to make the salary of then-CEO Lee Domanico public, he finally revealed that his total compensation was over $900,000, of which $492,291 was base salary. Numerous other perks, including a $173,000 bonus, interest forgiveness on a home loan and a $9,000 car allowance helped run the total to $943,104 for the year ending June 30, 2005.

El Camino's CEO presides over a 399-bed hospital in Mountain View plus another 143 beds at its Los Gatos location, as well as 2,440 employees in Mountain View and 468 in Los Gatos, a total of just over 2,900 employees. In addition the CEO is responsible for a business that generated more than $65 million in net income last year. That is why other area hospitals are paying as much or more as El Camino for their chief executive officers. Although it difficult to compare average salaries due to the small size of some other district hospitals in the state, at least one CEO, Nancy Farber of the 359-bed Washington Township Hospital in Fremont, earned nearly $900,000 in base compensation in 2009.

The idea that voters should limit the pay range of this executive, who presides over an extremely valuable asset, is preposterous. And while we appreciate that allowing the CEO's salary to be as much as double that of Gov. Jerry Brown, this is not an appropriate comparison. California governors must focus on politics, and most are not in office for the money, which is almost symbolic.

An SEIU spokesman told the Voice that members are irate that the hospital is requiring employees to pay for 10 percent of their formerly free healthcare plan, just like other non-union employees, including top executives. A spokeswoman cited higher costs for healthcare as the reason. Union members have also received a 19-percent increase in pay over the last four years, she said. We think they can afford this small increase in the cost of healthcare, which costs employees in most other industries far more.

We believe voters will see through this vindictive attack on executive pay at El Camino. The union is supposed to work out its grievances with El Camino in bargaining sessions with management, not at the ballot box. If voters approve this measure it will be a huge setback for labor peace at El Camino.

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