Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Monday, May 15, 2006

Wake Up Seattle Times

An editorial in today's Seattle Times states:
The Service Employees International Union, which is trying to organize the Providence hospitals, was in Olympia Thursday trying to stop Providence from financing an expansion. As a labor practice — if that is what it is — this is new, and troubling.

A union is a bargaining agent for workers. Traditionally, the union organizer's job has been to persuade workers. This new effort is getting between the employer and the government. The squeeze last week came at the Washington Health Care Facilities Authority in Olympia. Over the years, this little-known agency has issued more than $5.8 billion in tax-exempt bonds, all of it to raise capital for not-for-profit hospitals in Washington.

Providence wanted $383 million, which is a lot. Some was to refinance old debt. Some was for a new cancer clinic in Everett, with the aim of getting patients into treatment several weeks sooner than is typical today. Some was for the Mount Carmel Hospital in Colville.

The SEIU did not object to those uses. But the agency's bonds typically stipulate the money saved would be used to benefit patients. The SEIU wanted to know exactly how that had been done. "What was the savings and how was it spent?" asked SEIU attorney Eleanor Hamburger.

It's hard to say what you did with money you didn't spend, and Providence executives did not have an answer for it. They said Providence had given free care to all patients with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty line, and discounts to other patients, but that was not what the SEIU wanted. It wanted the bond issue delayed.

It made no mention during the hearing of labor organizing or negotiations, and when asked afterward, was coy about it. "Our relationship with Providence is not the friendliest," said Steve Askin of SEIU International. "But we would hope you would judge these issues we've raised on the merits."

It is legitimate to ask how the public benefits from a state program. "I think the SEIU has some good points," says Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle. But the timing of the SEIU's intervention and its reputation as the most-aggressive organizer in Washington lead us to believe that stepping on Providence's air hose in Olympia was more about power than policy.
The board did not buy SEIU's argument. It approved the Providence bonds, which was the correct decision.
The Slimes editorial staff has obviously been too busy bashing Wal-Mart and publishing leaked secret reports to notice that the force behind Wal-Mart Watch, one of the two national organizations that is actively trying to stop Wal-Mart's expansion, is the SEIU. The SEIU wants to organize Wal-Mart, along with the United Food and Commercial Workers. As a labor practice, stopping expansion of a business (i.e. extortion) might be troubling, but it's certainly not new. It's the 21st century version of union thuggery.

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