Battle to unseat Mass CEO shows ugly side of SEIU

by Anne Zieger on September 28, 2010

SEIUNobody has ever suggested that unions should be quiet lapdogs when demanding appropriate pay, benefits and staffing levels for their members. But the campaign against one Boston CEO has reached a new height of mudslinging and rancor, the like of which I’ve never seen in 20 years of studying the hospital industry.

First, a disclosure. I’ve interview the CEO, Paul Levy of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and he seemed very much like a straight shooter. I’m also an avid reader of his blog, Running A Hospital.  But I’m here neither to praise Mr. Levy nor bury him.  What I want to focus on, for a bit, is the tactics the Service Employees International has used to try and unseat him.

For at least a year, the SEIU has maintained a lurid site, Eye on B.I., splashed with blood red and topped with the slogan “What does Beth Israel Deaconess have to hide?”  The site lists a litany of supposed crimes large and small, including a “never event” in which a patient’s prostate was inappropriately removed.

What are the SEIU’s beefs with Levy?

Well, for one thing, Levy has publicly admitted having an inappropriate relationship with a female employee, a mistake for which he has apologized in every available forum. He also paid a $50,000 fine. While his behavior is far from a good thing, what bearing does it  have on the day-to-day lives, compensation, benefits or work hours of union members?

More on point, admittedly,  is a recent settlement in which Beth Israel and CareGroup Inc. agreed to pay $8.5 million to address allegations that workers weren’t paid for working past scheduled shifts and during lunch.  These allegations, if true, aren’t pretty.

Still, I’d take the union’s “indignation” more seriously if its  tactics didn’t extend to lumping in things in with this that have no bearing on Levy’s performance.

For example, the site lists an incident from this year in which a former employee of BIDMC was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for embezzling about a million dollars.  OK, perhaps Levy is ultimately responsible the problem, in the broadest sense, but can Beth Israel really be accused of being a heinous institution just because one employee broke the law?

In all honesty, I have no direct knowledge what kind of leader or boss Mr. Levy is.  I can tell you that not long ago, during the height of the financial crisis,  employees cheered him and agreed to cut their salaries to help balance the budget.  I also find it credible that the Board does indeed support him, given his strong performance to date.

So, the hysterics continue to rise, even without a real cause to keep them alive. Despite this, consider the screaming people who perched themselves outside of the hospital’s recent board meeting, many wearing shirts that say “Fire Paul Levy.”

Now tell me the union is  making any kind of sense.

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