In a ruling filed on July 17, Superior Court Judge Socrates P. Manoukian wrote, "El Camino Hospital may provide compensation to its administrators, executives and managers without regard to the limit imposed by Measure M."
Introduced through the initiative process, Measure M sought to limit the amount anyone working for El Camino Hospital could earn to no more than twice the salary of the governor of California — a cap that would have impacted the organization's top six executives.
Proponents of the measure, which initially included a local chapter of the SEIU-UHW, argued that voters had a right to limit executive pay, because El Camino receives taxpayer dollars from the El Camino Healthcare District. However, opponents — including many on the hospital and health care district board — argued from the start that the initiative was misguided.
Hospital officials said that El Camino does not use money collected from taxpayers to pay any employee's salary, and maintained that limiting the amount the hospital could offer its executive team would severely limit the hospital's competitiveness in the region.
From the outset, hospital officials questioned the constitutionality of the initiative. In the end, those suspicions were supported by the court.
Manoukian explained in his ruling that the initiative was unconstitutional for two key reasons. First, he wrote, "the statutory initiative does not apply to local health care districts." Secondly, "Measure M does not enact a statute or ordinance, and therefore is not within the initiative power."
Officials with the hospital said they were happy with the ruling.
"We are pleased with the court's decision, which will enable El Camino Hospital to continue to deliver high-quality and compassionate care by recruiting and retaining a strong leadership team," Neal Cohen, chair of the hospital's board of directors, said in a statement.
The SEIU-UHW initially pushed to get Measure M on the ballot but later pulled back its support for the initiative after the hospital conceded to union demands during contract negotiations. A union steward and El Camino employee, Kary Lynch, told a local paper that the measure was simply a "bargaining chip" before backing away from the statement.
At the time, a union official said that the measure was not a bargaining chip and that the union's priorities had simply changed. Neither Lynch nor anyone from the SEIU-UHW responded to requests for comment on the court striking down Measure M.