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April 10, 2013 / Paul Levy

Corporate Campaign — The next chapter

Wednesday, October 8, 2008, 11:41am

Here’s a message I sent out today to our staff concerning the recent ad campaign by the SEIU. I mentioned the bus stop ads here last week, but there are more now on radio, mobile billboards, and newspapers. As always, I welcome comments on all sides of this issue.

Many of you have sent me notes during the last few days expressing your dismay at the negative advertising and other activities being carried out by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). I thought I would take a moment to put this all in context.

We live in a free country, where people and organizations are free to say pretty much anything they want in public media. Thus, SEIU can say and imply a lot. But, saying these things is not the same as being truthful in what it is saying.

It is clear that SEIU is engaged in what is called a “corporate campaign,” an attempt to harm the reputation of our hospital and denigrate the people working or volunteering here. Another goal of such a campaign is to isolate us and to turn our closest friends against us. Why would the union do this? Well, its goal is to put such enormous pressure on the management and the Board of Directors that we agree to concessions that would make it more likely for the union to be successful when it gets to the point of trying to organize workers in this hospital. It wants us to sign a contract – negotiated only between management and high-level union leaders –that would govern the union organizing process and would rob our employees of their right to a vigorous and open debate prior to a meaningful secret ballot election.

Many months ago (in May 2006), I wrote to you on this topic. For those who are newly arrived since then, or for those who have forgotten, here is what I said:

The other major change in the local environment is the announcement by a national union that it intends to organize the workers in the academic medical centers in Boston. I want to make our position clear with regard to this effort and union organizing efforts in general. We intend to follow the law with regard to labor relations, a law that is designed to give a fair opportunity both to employees who favor unionization and those who oppose it. Congress has been very clear that employers have to give workers a fair choice in these matters. Accordingly, we will vigorously oppose any efforts to short-circuit the legitimate process by which employees of this hospital can consider, debate, and vote on this issue. For me the underlying question is whether a union at BIDMC would enhance your ability to deliver the kind of patient care that is so important to all of us, to strengthen our research program, to improve our education programs, to strengthen our ability to serve the community, and to improve our employees’ chances for personal and professional development and advancement. I do not believe that it would, and so I intend to advise you against creating a union here. Ultimately, though, the choice will be yours, and we will respect your judgment on that matter if and when the time comes for a fair and free vote on this issue.

Now, we see real evidence of this corporate campaign. SEIU is spending thousands and thousands of dollars on mobile billboards, bus stop ads, newspaper ads, and ads on expensive radio stations to get across its current messages. We do not have access to union dues, nor do we currently choose to spend our funds to counter these types of ads in the public media, and so it will likely feel unfair to you that the union’s charges go unanswered in those forums.

I do not feel it is productive or a good use of time to try to rebut each and every charge made by the SEIU. But, you should rest assured that any and all complaints and allegations raised with regard to issues like our rates, our delivery of charity care, human resources policies and individual cases are governed by a variety state and federal regulatory agencies. The public will know through these agencies when we make a mistake. But as you well know, our hospital is committed to levels of transparency that are unprecedented in the Boston area. For example, we even publicized when we made a serious medical error so that we could engage in a constant process of improvement on behalf of our patients!

Instead of recognizing our good intentions, our attributes and our intiatives on behalf of patients and employees, SEIU seeks to muddy our reputation with inaccurate and exaggerated claims. That it chooses to do so mainly with regard to BIDMC rather than other hospitals in Boston may be a direct result of my decision to call out its strategies and behavior in a public way, for example on my blog and in public appearances. I felt it important to do so to inform public officials, the media, and corporate leaders on this important matter. I believe many CEO colleagues in other Massachusetts hospitals agree with me, but they have chosen to be quiet about the issue, probably in the hope of not being targeted by the union. I believe that is a mistake on their part, in that they will likely be next in line, as the president of SEIU has said that the union will not rest until every hospital worker in Boston is unionized.

I know that for some of you it is difficult to be placed in the middle of this campaign. The union may say that it has no intention of harming you personally, but you understand that it is the people who make a hospital, and that nasty statements about the hospital are, in essence, an attack on you personally. I am sorry that this is the case. All I can say is that, while the ads and allegations can be upsetting, you should continue to be proud of your commitment and dedication to our mission of quality care and compassion for those in need. That mission continues unabated and strong, even in the face of these terribly misleading ads. Thank you for all that you do. As always, I am happy to hear from you individually if you want to share your personal concerns and suggestions.

Finally, some of you have asked what you can and should do when approached by people representing a union. As guidance, many months ago, our Board of Directors adopted a code of conduct consistent with the National Labor Relations Act with regard to this issue. 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.


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.

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