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Union Remains Active In Health Care Industry Despite Withdrawing Initiative To Cap California Health Care Executive Salaries

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) – United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) has twice tried to get an initiative on the California ballot to cap the salaries of executives at nonprofit hospitals. The union recently withdrew its latest ballot initiative, ensuring that it will not appear on this November’s ballot.

SEIU Sought To Cap Private Executive Salaries 

Called the “Charitable Hospital Executive Compensation Act of 2016,” SEIU’s initiative sought to limit the annual compensation packages paid to chief executive officers, executives, managers, and administrators of nonprofit hospitals and affiliated medical entities in California. The cap would be set at the annual salary of the U.S. President, currently $450,000. All executive compensation would be included in the cap, including salary, bonuses, stock options, paid time off, housing payments, loan forgiveness, and reimbursement for transportation, parking, entertainment or similar benefits. It would not include the cost of health or disability insurance or contributions to health reimbursement accounts.

The measure called for penalties for hospitals and covered physicians groups who violated the salary cap. Such penalties would include fines, revocation of tax-exempt status, and having an additional person sit on the nonprofit’s board of directors to represent the state Attorney General.

Protect Taxpayers or Organizing Tactic?

Filed in October of 2015, SEIU’s latest initiative stated that its purpose was to ensure that assets held for charitable purposes were not used to enrich executives, managers, and administrators of nonprofit hospitals. SEIU also stated that the total compensation packages for hospital executives should be reasonable and not excessive “in light of the substantial public benefit that the State tax exemption for nonprofit organizations conveys.” In essence, the union touted that taxpayers should not have to subsidize the multi-million dollar paychecks of administrators at tax-exempt healthcare entities.

In the past, the SEIU filed other California initiatives, including one to limit hospital prices and another to put more rules around charity care that could be provided by nonprofit hospitals. In exchange for the SEIU withdrawing those initiatives, the California Hospital Association (CHA) agreed to a contract with the SEIU in 2014 called the Code of Conduct which was intended to put obligations and restrictions on the conduct of each party. The Code expired by its terms on December 31, 2015, but not before the CHA filed a complaint against the SEIU alleging that its initiative to cap executive salaries violated the Code.

As revealed in the arbitration order, in which the arbitrator found that the SEIU did in fact violate the Code, the goals of the SEIU in pushing its healthcare industry initiatives were to increase its membership by reaching agreements with hospitals that provide them access to healthcare workers, and by working together with the hospitals to get Medi-Cal fully funded, which would support more jobs for union members. The initiatives therefore appear to be intended to pressure the hospitals into helping the SEIU organize workers and expand its membership.

Even though this specific salary cap initiative has been withdrawn, we can expect that the SEIU-UHW will continue its pressure tactics in organizing workers in the healthcare industry.

Copyright Holland & Hart LLP 1995-2020.National Law Review, Volume VI, Number 188


About this Author

Steven M. Gutierrez, Holland Hart, employment lawyer, labor attorney

Mr. Gutierrez helps companies meet the varied challenges presented by the modern employment relationship. He has tried numerous cases before judges and juries, and on appeal, in complex labor and employment matters and other tort litigation.

With practical and cost-effective methods of practice, Mr. Gutierrez develops solutions to meet business employment needs and to maintain compliance with federal and state laws. One key way he does this is by advising and providing training to private employers regarding policies and practices relating to...