Mountain View Voice

Opinion - November 16, 2012

Future of hospital's salary-rollback in limbo

Despite its clear victory in the Nov. 6 election, it isn't entirely certain what the future holds for Measure M, the union-led initiative that says salaries of El Camino Hospital's top executives shall be limited to no more than twice the governor's pay ($347,974).

Last week, the true purpose of the measure came into question after Kary Lynch, a shop steward for the Service Employees International Union at El Camino, told another newspaper that the initiative was merely a "bargaining chip" for the union and he predicted it would not be defended in court. Hospital CEO Tomi Ryba, whose current annual salary of about $700,000 a year, as well as several other high-ranking staff members, would face substantial pay cuts if the measure is allowed to stand.

Union officials were quick to discount Lynch's story, claiming the rollback was still important. Repeated efforts by the Voice to reach Lynch were not successful.

All of this raises even more of a question over just how far the SEIU wants to go in defending the initiative in court against what we suspect will be a vigorous effort by the hospital to strike it down. So far, no decision on challenging the measure has been announced. Hospital officials contend that CEO salaries at hospitals the size of El Camino are set by the market, and that a reduced salary would severely handicap their ability to hire the best people to do the job.

It has long been known that union members were irate when the hospital board slashed their health care benefits when they imposed the 2010 contract. It was only after the imposition of that contract that the petition drive to put Measure M on the ballot began. When Lynch characterized the measure as a "bargaining chip" in the ongoing battle between the SEIU and the hospital over wages and benefits, he provided evidence of what some have long suspected — that Measure M has less to do with lofty principles of wage fairness and more to do with ensuring that the union gets what it wants from the hospital.

If Measure M was indeed a retaliatory move, it was one that worked. The latest SEIU contract included a health care package that apparently satisfied the union. Now, it appears that the easiest way out for all parties is for the hospital to attack Measure M in court and for the SEIU to tactfully pull back from defending it.

Unions supported new board members

In prior years the unions rarely had a say in how the hospital was managed. But that will not be the case this time around with the election of two new members to the board who received substantial support from the South Bay Labor Council, an AFL-CIO affiliate. The council dished out more than $100,000 to back the three challengers, with winners David Chiu and Julia Miller each receiving $36,040 and Bill James, who finished out of the running, $35,813. In addition, Chiu and Miller each took in $2,500 from the SEIU. Incumbents John Zoglin, the top vote-getter, and Wes Alles, who failed to retain his seat, received $20,000 for their joint campaign from conservative Palo Alto resident Charles Munger, Jr., who is well known for his failed effort to halt Gov. Jerry Brown's state Proposition 30.

Chiu, an attorney who is knowledgeable about the regulations governing the hospital's elected board and the operating board that actually conducts the hospital's business, has said he will push for the district to share more of the taxes paid by local residents with local nonprofit groups. Although it is too soon to tell whether the newcomers will find allies on the full board, we do not believe the next two years will be business as usual for El Camino.

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