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CA Health Unions Have Forgotten Solidarity Forever

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, February 1, 2010

A disclaimer: I'm not anti-union. If it wasn't for unions, we'd still have smudge-faced 9-year-olds working 12-hour days picking coal chunks off conveyor belts. Every American who's ever drawn a paycheck, whether or not they've ever been in a union, enjoys better working standards because of the hard-fought victories of organized labor. That is simply a fact.

But it must be asked: Does anyone in organized labor see how badly this California fight reflects on the union movement?

Does it instill public confidence and support for the labor movement—particularly in a sector as vital, personal and invasive as healthcare—when unions accuse each other of corruption and incompetence?

The fight in California comes as unions are lobbying for passage of the card check bill, which many are calling the most important piece of pro-labor legislation in the last 50 years. So, at a time when unions need public support, this California scorched earth campaign is remarkably dumb. It demonstrates that union leaders on both sides are not above being short-sighted, self-defeating, vindictive, and mean.

If I were a hospital or nursing home executive, I'd Google all of these media accounts, the snarky press releases from the unions, the interviews where the rival unions are calling one another out of touch, or corrupt, or ineffective, or all of the above, and I'd compile a thick dossier.

Then, when a healthcare union came to my hospital to organize, I'd hand out copies of the dossier to my employees, and highlight the accusations of corruption and incompetence. I'd pin up the derogatory interviews on the break room bulletin board, and I'd ask "Do you want these people representing you?"

Forget Solidarity Forever! Healthcare unions in California should quote Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us."


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John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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