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Ben Affleck, Boston Workers and Bad Faith CEOs

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You gotta give it up for Ben Affleck. The guy showed up yesterday for an event with no glitter and glam but a whole lot of people simply trying to better their lives -- the healthcare workers at Boston's teaching hospitals who are struggling to get the CEOs of these institutions just to agree to let them have a fair, supervised union election.

But the CEOs are cringing like a bunch of shrinking virgins whose date just tried to cop a cheap feel, as if they've never heard of such an inconceivable outrage. They have called the SEIU's list of requests for fair elections both "undemocratic" and "unnecessary" given the fact that the NLRB has rules regulating such things.

Dear me. Let's have a look at those outrageous demands:

  • Management agrees to abstain from spending any patient care resources on efforts to dissuade employees from unionizing.
  • Both the union and the employer agree not to disparage each other and to present only factual information.
  • Employees are allowed to exchange and discuss information about unionization.
  • Management does not take a position on unionization, but allows employees to make up their own minds.
  • Employees are given access to union representatives and information at the workplace.
  • Management agrees to schedule an election without delays and respect the decision employees make.
  • Management and the union agree to a fair, timely and binding enforcement process for these guidelines.

"If it's already illegal, it shouldn't be so difficult to agree to it," said the SEIU's Dana Simon.

As we saw in the California and Nevada nurse's strikes, union busters like Larry Arnold and Brent Yessin are regularly contracted by hospitals to come in to harass and intimidate workers who support unionization (in an attempt to skirt the NLRB's regulations). Moreover, the NLRB is not immune from the politicization that has characterized so many government agencies under the Bush administration. They recently reached back to a case from 2000 -- the Carney Hospital and SEIU case -- to decide that the appropriate penalty for a hospital who illegally suspended a pro-union worker was basically to pay the employee for the time he was suspended and promise not to do it again.

Ouch. That'll leave a mark.

Paul Levy, chief executive at Beth Israel (and also a blogger) clutches his pearls and scolds the SEIU for having held up construction of a new facility in New Haven. "What kind of healthcare service union would stand in the way of a cancer center in New England? That strikes me as the kind of union we don't want," Levy said.

He didn't address the fact that the workers who are trying to unionize have neither the incomes nor the health insurance benefits to be treated in the hospitals they work in.

Given that one in six jobs in Boston is in the healthcare sector, Mayor Menino (who endorses the union's efforts) was also at the press conference. And the Boston City Councilor will be voting today as to whether they should recommend that hospital CEOs agree to hold fair, supervised elections.

Said Andy Stern:

Today is a historic day. Workers have stood up to ask for the basic right to choose a Union without interference from their employers, for being able to deliver quality care to all residents of Boston. We are so appreciative that Mayor Menino and the other public leaders have spoken out and asked the executives of the huge medical centers in Boston to recognize that quality care can only be delivered by workers who have been given the basic human right to vote for a union without fear of reprisal.

Most of all, it was an inspiring day of bravery of hundreds of workers who publicly said, we are not afraid because workers rights and patients rights are too important to stay silent.

This is an important fight. As Paul Krugman notes in his new book The Conscience of a Liberal, "middle-class societies don't emerge automatically as an economy matures, they have to be created through political action."

This is a prime example of that kind of political action.

Pretty exciting.

Jane Hamsher blogs at firedoglake.com