Hospital mulling Measure M response
Union refutes assertion that initiative was 'bargaining chip,' El Camino remains mum
El Camino Hospital officials have been tight-lipped in the wake of the passage of the salary capping initiative, Measure M — even after a union steward and employee at the local health care organization told a reporter that the measure was a "bargaining chip in the negotiating process" between the union and the hospital.
Union representatives have dismissed his statement.
As the Voice went to press Wednesday afternoon, the El Camino Hospital board was scheduled later that evening to consider approval of yearly performance incentives for top administrators and CEO Tomi Ryba, as well as discuss Measure M and possibly take action to respond to its passage.
Though no hospital official has said exactly what El Camino would do in the event of Measure M's approval, many have hinted that a legal challenge would ensue. All official hospital statements have condemned the measure, saying it would make hiring and maintaining qualified administrators difficult, if not impossible. Asked whether the hospital was planning to take the measure to court, El Camino spokeswoman Chris Ernst repeatedly said it was too soon to say.
If the hospital does choose to challenge the measure in court, the union that pushed to get the initiative on the ballot is unlikely to defend it, according to Kary Lynch, a psychiatric technician at El Camino and a steward with the hospital's chapter of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers.
Lynch was quoted in the Nov. 8 edition of The Daily News saying, "Truthfully, the measure was initially proposed as a bargaining chip in the negotiating process. We picked salaries because it was something that resonated with voters."
Chris Ernst, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said she did not wish to comment on Lynch's statement.
Measure M caps executive and management salaries at the district hospital to no more than twice the governor of California's salary.
Officials from both the SEIU-UHW and the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council emphasized that while Lynch has spoken to newspapers on union issues in the past, he is not an official spokesman for the union.
A bitter dispute over contracts would be the reason the union could have used a bargaining chip. The hospital board imposed a contract upon the union, which union leaders and many members found unsatisfactory. One major complaint was it took away an option for a healthcare plan with no-cost premiums for employees.
"Despite a published report, Kary Lynch is not an official of SEIU-UHW," said a statement issued by the SEIU-UHW. "He is not an elected member of the union's executive board and does not hold any other official position. His statement does not reflect the current or past position of SEIU-UHW."
After all was said and done, 24,650 votes (51.91 percent) had been tallied in favor of the Measure, while 22,833 (48.09 percent) had been cast in opposition. The final ballot count has yet to be certified, but the outcome is unlikely to change.
Gov. Jerry Brown currently makes $173,987 annually. Twice his salary, $347,974, is still less than half El Camino CEO Ryba's proposed 2013 salary of $714,460. The hospital's chief financial officer, Michael King, and its chief medical officer, Dr. Eric Pifer, also make more than twice the governor's salary at $420,000 and $450,000 respectively.
Lynch did not respond to repeated requests to comment, nor did he respond when the Voice attempted to reach him in early October to ask if the union's decision to back away from pushing Measure M was the result of a long-disputed contract issue being settled.
That dispute began in 2010 when the hospital board imposed a contract on hospital workers. In May of 2012, Measure M qualified to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, thanks in large part to a push from the SEIU-UHW which sent people out into the community to gather signatures for the initiative.
In the early stages of Measure M, Lynch and others supporters said the salary cap was about creating parity between the top administrators and the lowest-paid workers at the hospital. Lynch even drew ties between Measure M and the national "Occupy" movement. "I think among the general public people are really upset that all these executives make such extravagant salaries," he said.
But it appeared that Lynch's union backed off of their support for Measure M after it was announced in September that the SEIU-UHW had reached an agreement with the hospital on a new contract, which restored the free health care plan option. As the Nov. 6 election drew near, campaign reports showed that the SEIU-UHW had spent no money promoting the measure.
When asked whether the union decided to stop backing the measure after more favorable contact negotiations concluded, union representative Carlyn Foster replied: "No. Our priorities shifted."
Responding to the recent news story, Foster said in a statement:
"SEIU-UHW members placed Measure M on the ballot solely to rein in executive salaries at the El Camino Hospital District, which is partially supported by taxpayer dollars. At the time SEIU-UHW members filed signatures to put Measure M on the ballot, El Camino hospital management was taking the position in contract bargaining that they could not afford to maintain employee benefits, even as they paid millions to a small number of their top executives. The measure was designed to bring a balance to the way the District allocates its resources and free up more funding for frontline workers, and came at a time when the Occupy movement had created a national conversation about wage and benefit inequality."
The priority shift for the union came from state Propositions 30 and 32, Foster said, due to "the immediate and massive impact of those measures on working people across the state and the future of education in California. The focus by SEIU-UHW members on those two initiatives helped pass Proposition 30 and defeat Proposition 32."
Check mv-voice.com for updates on the hospital's response to Measure M.