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April 10, 2013 / Paul Levy

Another page from the playbook

Friday, September 7, 2007, 9:08pm

Several weeks ago, I gave an update on the tactics that have been used by the Service Employees International Union in its attempt to organize unions at hospitals. Here is another page from the playbook.

Recently, many of our doctors received a letter from the union in which the following points were made: (1) that the BIDMC’s administration has mischaracterized its position; and (2) that the SEIU has asked that the management of Boston’s not-yet-union hospitals agree to a “free and fair election code of conduct”, “free for workers to make up their own minds under fair secret ballot voting conditions.” This code would include “a commitment by hospital executives to neither devote patient care funds toward disruptive anti-union campaigns, nor divert health care workers’ time from their patient care duties to attend mandatory anti-union meetings.” The code of conduct would “call on all parties to allow workers to make their own decisions in an environment free of coercion and to honor the outcome of a secret ballot election.” The union says, “The secret ballot point is noteworthy, given that one CEO has been publicly arguing against a code of conduct by asserting that he supports secret ballot elections.”

While it is awkward to impute another’s motivation, it appears that the letter has three purposes. First, to obfuscate the statements made by management of hospitals about this issue. Second, to present a revisionist view of what the union itself has said in other forums — like in the US Congress, where it has strenuously argued for an elimination of elections. Third, to attempt to drive a wedge between the management and a hospital’s physicians by using these mischaracterizations and appealing to the doctors’ underlying sense of fairness and fondness for the workers in the hospital.

I am not sure to which CEO the SEIU is referring. On the off chance it refers to me, you can judge for yourself in that the statements I have made are clear and available here for you to see in many of these blog postings. At BIDMC, we surely support a free and fair election, and our Board of Directors has adopted and published a code of conduct on this matter that properly reflects the federal rules and regulations governing such matters. Here it is:

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
General Code of Conduct Regarding Organizing Activities

BIDMC has a strong commitment to its mission of community service in providing excellent clinical care, conducting medical research, and training future generations of medical professionals. As an academic medical center and prominent member of the corporate and civic communities, BIDMC is committed to an environment of respectful and open discourse and debate among its management, employees and physicians. It is of the utmost concern to the Board of Directors that this fair and unhindered exchange of points of view is maintained and supported during all times, including any attempt by unions to organize staff at BIDMC. Therefore the Board of Directors adopts this General Code of Conduct.

Conduct Standards

BIDMC has long believed that managers, supervisors and employees best serve the interests of patients by working together. Further, it is imperative that everyone in the work environment remain focused on patient care while continuing to have open communication and professional interaction respecting everyone’s freedom of belief.

Managerial and Supervisory Employees of BIDMC

When communicating with employees, including regarding union activities, managers and supervisors are encouraged to promote an open and robust dialogue and share with employees factual information. Managers and supervisors also should feel free to express their opinions and encourage employees to ask questions. On the other hand, in any discussions with employees, respect is paramount. Specifically in the union activities context, managers and supervisors must not threaten or interrogate employees about their union activities, nor may managers or supervisors make promises to employees to induce them to be against the union. Finally, managers and supervisors must not conduct surveillance of union activities.

Non-Managerial/Supervisory Employees of BIDMC

Non-managerial and non-supervisory employees may engage in union organizing activities only on non-working time and only in non-patient care areas. BIDMC’s “No Solicitation and No Distribution” policy, “Use of Public Space Policy” and the Human Resources Department are available as resources to answer questions in this regard.

Non-Employees

Finally, individuals not employed by BIDMC may not engage in union organizing activities on BIDMC property.

Additional Information

Anyone with questions or concerns regarding this General Code of Conduct is urged to contact the Beth Israel Deaconess Human Resources Department or the Beth Israel Deaconess Office of Business Conduct.

Now, I know this may not be what the SEIU has in mind. But what it has in mind is not consistent with the balanced approach adopted by the Congress and the courts under the National Labor Relations Act.

Let me give just one example that is problematic in the approach suggested by the SEIU, its point of not using patient care funds for anti-union activities. The term “patient care funds” is highly ambiguous. All hospitals have multiple sources of revenues — Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance companies, philanthropy, interest, dividends, intellectual property, sales of real estate — and these dollars are indistinguishable once they are received. Some of these sources contribute to the hospital’s margin, i.e, excess of revenues over costs. But in other cases, like Medicaid, the state underpays hospitals relative to patient care costs, and so those services are subsidized by a number of other sources. To prove that “patient care funds” were not being used, say, for legal counsel during a unionization drive would be a CPA’s dream, in terms of billable hours, because there is no methodology for an auditable resolution to this matter.

I don’t know if the SEIU has indeed asked any hospitals in Boston to adopt its proposed code of conduct, but I do know that there are no public reports of a hospital having agreed to do so. If one of them has, please submit a comment on this blog so we will all know that you have. The union’s attempt to suggest that there is only one CEO in this city who believes along these lines has not been supported in any way whatsoever. If there is a CEO out there who agrees with the SEIU’s proposal, please publish the code you have adopted and speak up so we can all understand why you have agreed to such a code.

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