Mountain View Voice

News - May 11, 2012

Hospital pay cap qualifies for ballot

by Nick Veronin

An initiative that would cap executive pay at El Camino Hospital has qualified for the November ballot. Proponents collected the signatures needed for to bring it before voters, officials from the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters confirmed.

While those in favor insist that their initiative is simply about putting an end to the hospital's unfair payment policies, El Camino officials say that it is merely a political move, backed by vindictive members of the healthcare organization's workers' union.

More than 16,000 people signed petition in support of the initiative, according to Stacey Hendler Ross, communications director for the South Bay Labor Council. The propsal needed only 9,100 to qualify for the November ballot.

The hospital's board has the option of accepting the stipulations outlined within the initiative, which would keep the union-backed legislation off of fall ballots.

"I don't think it's likely that will be the outcome, due to the fact that it would prohibit our ability to hire the right talent in a very competitive environment," said Chris Ernst, a spokeswoman for El Camino.

"I just don't think that's true," said Kary Lynch, a psychiatric technician at El Camino. Lynch is a steward for the hospital's workers union — the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers — which provided financial backing for the initiative. He said that there is no reason upper level administrators at El Camino should be paid so much, especially when average workers are paid so much less and recently had to accept cuts to benefits. "Our executives' salaries are way out of range."

Not true, Ernst countered. "There are hospitals close to us whose executives make a great deal more than our leadership. If you look at competitive salaries, across the board, that's the median — we are right there in the average salary of CEOs running hospitals our size."

According to the March 10, 2011, issue of Payers & Providers — a weekly publication covering healthcare business and policy news in California — the highest paid district CEO in the state last year was Nancy Farber, who earned a total compensation package of $905,084. El Camino CEO Tomi Ryba, who earns a base salary of $695,000, could earn about that, should the district board decide she deserves to be awarded all the bonuses for which she is eligible.

According to Ernst, the hospital simply pays what the market demands.

"We don't take taxpayers dollars and pay anyone's salary," she said.

All tax money goes back to the community benefit and back to capital improvement for the hospital. It is important to note, Ernst said, because everyone who signed the petition in support of the salary cap initiative was led to believe that tax payer money is used to pay executive salaries at El Camino.

Pam Carper, a respiratory therapist at El Camino Hospital's pulmonary lab, said she believes hospital administrators earn their pay.

Although Carper is a member of the SEIU-UHW she does not support capping anyone's pay at the hospital. "I think it's a tremendous waste of time, money and energy that the SEIU is pursuing this initiative," she said. "This is just an issue they're trying to use to agitate and cause dissent and slow down everybody's work. It's just another game."

Though Lynch admitted that his union had hired signature gatherers, he defended the practice, saying the union was simply working to "raise public awareness."

"The union didn't put this initiative on the ballot," Lynch said. "The voters did."

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