SEIU-UHW Aligns with CPMC in San Francisco Political Endorsements

by Randy Shaw on August 3, 2010

I wrote on March 24 about how SEIU-UHW has sided against a coalition of neighborhood and health care advocacy groups in backing CPMC’s planned mega-hospital on Van Ness. Now, SEIU-UHW is so hellbent on getting the project built that it’s basing its San Francisco Supervisor endorsements on candidates’ willingness to support the controversial project. SEIU-UHW’s questionnaire asks whether the candidate will “publicly support the CPMC/Cathedral Hill building projects” at EIR hearings, and then at the Board of Supervisors. Candidates are also asked whether they “think it appropriate for public officials and others who are not members of a particular union to intervene in a union’s internal matters,” and to make a “commitment” not to intervene as a Supervisor. UHW is not only imposing a political litmus test that undermines ongoing negotiations with CPMC, but also warning candidates not to follow SEIU’s own example of “intervening in a union’s internal matters,” a precept SEIU violated in its long attack on UNITE HERE.

The Bay Citizen had a great story on July 29 describing how CPMC’s Van Ness building project threatened the future of St. Luke’s Hospital in the Mission District. Health advocates have been working to protect St. Luke’s, along with a broad coalition of groups from neighborhoods whose quality of life will be impacted by CPMC’s planned massive project.

But SEIU-UHW has ignored city health advocates or community impacts, and has been in a mad rush to implement CPMC’s program. Now it is making support for CPMC a political litmus test for supervisor candidates, endorsing those it believes will support the project even without mitigations or community benefits.

(Note: SEIU-UHW is the local currently being challenged by NUHW in decertification elections across the state, with 43,500 workers at Kaiser Hospital set to begin voting on September 13. UHW is distinct from SEIU Local 1021, which represents city workers in San Francisco and elsewhere. Local 1021’s Executive Board recently voted 24-2 against providing financial support to UHW’s Kaiser campaign, and Local 1021 supports the coalition of community and health advocacy groups negotiating with CPMC.)

Weiner, Sparks, Moss To Get UHW Backing

Based on questionnaire responses, UHW has endorsed Theresa Sparks in District 6 and is recruiting support for, and will likely formally back, Scott Weiner in District 8 and Steve Moss in District 10.

These are also the candidates backed by the city’s business and corporate community. Weiner and Moss are also backed by the Small Property Owners, whose attempts to dramatically expand condo conversions has repeatedly been rejected by the progressive Board majority.

UHW’s active recruiting of endorsements and money for Moss is surprising, as he is a white candidate running in the city’s most African-American district. If Moss were to prevail, the Board of Supervisors would have no black members in 2011.

SEIU-UHW’s support for Moss shows the extent it will shape its political agenda to keep a large hospital (CPMC) happy.

As for District 6, candidates Jane Kim and Debra Walker are strong labor advocates, and Elaine Zamora works for a group that is part of the Good Neighbor Coalition negotiating with CPMC (the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which I head and which publishes Beyond Chron, is also part of the GNC.). This left Sparks as the union’s favored choice.

I have not seen the questionnaire responses, but I suspect that none of the favored candidates signed a statement agreeing in advance to back CPMC, since that would disqualify them from voting on the project if elected. I’m also aware that Weiner was among those who wrote a pro-NUHW letter in the past, so it appears that UHW is willing to take the most pro-CPMC candidate even if that person previously “intervened” in internal union affairs.

UHW’s Business Unionism

For a union that wants Kaiser workers to believe that it will vigorously fight management on their behalf, UHW has a remarkably cozy relationship with the hospital industry. In May, the Oakland Planning Commission considered Sutter Health’s giant expansion of its Alta Bates facility, and SEIU-UHW staff and members showed up in force to support the plan.

Warren Kirk, CEO and President of Alta-Bates Summit Medical Center, sent an email acknowledging SEIU’s help: We’re extremely grateful for the assistance of many individuals, physicians and clinical staff who made tremendous contributions of time and experience to get us to this new milestone in this important project, including a number of SEIU-UHW members.

Kirk was not so laudatory toward the California Nurses Association. Kirk wrote:

“The only opposition of note was from the California Nurses Association (CNA). It’s unfortunate for our community, the employees and physicians of Alta Bates Summit that CNA’s leadership spoke against this necessary and important project. Following last week’s meeting, we received an indication that CNA may file an appeal to the City Council. It is disappointing for our employees that CNA would continue to speak against a project that would allow Alta Bates Summit physicians and staff to care for patients and their families in this new, state-of-the-art, safe and beautiful environment.”

CNA has been battling SEIU-UHW’s hospital allies, and has played a critical role in the struggle to preserve St. Luke’s. The union is also backing community plans for housing, transit, health and other benefits for the neighborhoods surrounding CPMC’s proposed new facility.

While CNA is putting community health needs and the interests of its members first, SEIU-UHW is walking in lockstep with CPMC and Sutter, neither of whom are worker-friendly employers. Both have ongoing conflicts with CNA, and had similar disputes with SEIU-UHW when it was under the more aggressive leadership of current NUHW President Sal Rosselli.

SEIU-UHW isolated itself from San Francisco’s progressive community, health care advocates, and community and labor groups when it unconditionally backed CPMC’s project. By now basing its political endorsements on the needs of a less than pro-union employer, UHW is moving further away from the local once known as an activist and progressive stalwart.

Randy Shaw is the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. Follow Randy on Twitter: @RandyTHClinic

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