Starkman: Maine’s Democratic Leaders Put Michigan’s Levin, Tlaib and Dingell to Shame

April 04, 2021, 5:37 PM

The columnist, a Los Angeles freelancer, is a former Detroit News business reporter who blogs at Starkman Approved

By Eric Starkman

Hey Detroit-area Reps. Andy Levin, Rashida Tlaib and Debbie Dingell, you phony-baloney labor advocates, here’s what unequivocal union support for all workers looks like.

Maine’s Democratic legislative leaders last month sent a scathing letter to Maine Medical Center (MMC), the state’s biggest hospital network, protesting the hiring of anti-union consultants for allegedly intimidating nurses to vote against joining the California Nurses Association.  The letter, signed by Maine’s Senate president, the speaker of the House and 75 other legislators, demanded the hospital “fire the consultants” and respect RNs federally-protected right to organize.

“We have heard from nurses about being accosted in one-on-one anti-union meetings, dragged from patient care to listen to out of state anti-union consultants lecture them on why they should vote no for the democratic right to negotiate with their employer; and threatened by certain supervisors that they stand to lose benefits, or employment if they vote yes in the upcoming election,” the letter states.

“These nurses and their patients are our constituents. We expect better from the largest hospital in our state– if you intend to take anything away from RNs—including their moral and legal right to a free and fair election we will stand with the nurses against any such attempt.”

Reps. Debbie Dingell, Andy Levin and Rashida Tlaib

Levin, reportedly once considered for Labor Secretary in the Biden Administration, spearheaded a letter signed by 50 Congressional colleagues to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expressing their support for Amazon workers in Alabama to organize a union with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Tlaib and Dingell were among the signatories.  The media savvy trio recently visited Michigan for a photo opportunity to stand with striking Teamsters members at a 7Up warehouse in Redford Township. That strike has just been settled.  

Silent on Hospital Union Busting

Yet, they’ve all been silent on union busting activities at Beaumont Royal Oak, which is in Levin’s district. Beaumont’s Dearborn and Wayne hospitals serve Tlaib’s and Dingell’s districts.

More than 90 percent of nurse anesthetists at Beaumont’s Royal Oak, Troy, and Grosse Pointe hospitals last month overwhelmingly voted to be represented by the Southeastern Michigan CRNAs and Associates (SEMCA). The vote passed despite union-busting activities similar to the ones Maine’s legislators decried in their letter to Maine’s biggest hospital network.

Sally Gribben (Photo: Facebook)

The Beaumont nurse anesthetists are employed by NorthStar Anesthesia, a Texas-based outsourcing firm that took over anesthesiology services at Royal Oak, Troy, and Grosse Pointe hospitals in January. SEMCA’s president is Sally Gribben, a Beaumont Royal Oak CRNA who NorthStar put on administrative leave three weeks ago, ostensibly for accessing the medical records of a patient who received a pain medication overdose. NorthStar was acting at the behest of Beaumont’s management.

Gribben’s colleagues say she had good reason to access the records because she was asked to provide backup support when the incident happened two months ago.

Beaumont’s management spent nearly $2 million on union busting firms to derail an earlier union drive of Beaumont Royal Oak nurses. That derailment, which the NLRB said involved more than 30 labor law violations, was so successful the Michigan Nurses Association vowed it would never again “officially” organize a Beaumont facility because of the company’s pervasive “climate of fear.”

No Michigan public officials rallied to support the Beaumont nurses’ union drive or protested the intimidation tactics they faced. Michigan Health and Hospital Association is a powerful lobbying group; Beaumont Health CEO John Fox is an officer of the organization and was chair until January of this year.

Michigan’s leaders, particularly Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, have notably remained silent about Beaumont’s implosion and reports of unsafe patient conditions.

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Under the controversial leadership of CEO Fox, COO Carolyn Wilson, and Chief Medical Officer David Wood Jr., Beaumont has lost more than a dozen prominent surgeons, about half its fellowship trained anesthesiologists, more than 50 nurse anesthetists, and countless nurses. The company’s CFO bailed last month, and its chief marketing officer resigned last summer. 

Within three weeks of Beaumont outsourcing its anesthesiology functions in January to NorthStar, a patient died from intubation complications while undergoing a routine colonoscopy and another received a pain medication overdose. 

The heads of cardiology at Royal Oak previously warned Beaumont chairman John Lewis they had “serious concerns” about NorthStar’s capabilities. Nessel also ignored a letter from a Beaumont donor and former board member that she could have “another Flint” on her hands if she didn't address a myriad of management issues he outlined in a five page letter.

Little wonder Michigan ranked near the bottom for healthcare in a recent U.S. News & World Report survey.

Levin has the declared the union vote of Amazon’s Alabama warehouse workers “the most important union election of my lifetime.” That’s a telling comment for a guy who’s supposedly a union champion and expert.

Union Membership Decline

Union representation in America has declined dramatically, and the Amazon warehouse vote isn’t going to materially reverse the trend. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, America’s union membership rate declined to 10.8 percent in 2020, from 20.1 percent in 1983.

Unionization of hospital and medical workers is the new frontier, particularly in the wake of the pandemic where hospitals are looking to slash their workforces. According to a recent Kaiser News report, about seven percent of health care and social services workers are unionized. Of the approximately 1,500 petitions for union representation posted on the NLRB’s website in 2020, 16 percent related to the health care field, up from 14 percent the previous year.

While Levin apparently doesn’t appreciate the trend’s significance, hospital managements do. According to the Economic Policy Institute, anti-union “consultants” are at a record high, supported by the more than $400 million a year U.S. companies spend to keep unions out. A sub-specialty in union busting firms intimidating nurses has emerged.

Beaumont Isn't Alone

“The right wing, the corporate elite understand how strategic nurses are to the labor movement,” Jane McAlevey, a union organizer, told The Nation last year. “Hospital administrators try to come off as doing something good, but really they’re just taking public money and hiring union-busting thugs.”

Beaumont isn’t the only Michigan hospital engaged in union-busting activities. Mercy Health Hackley in Muskegon, which is owned by Livonia-based Trinity Health, employed two notorious union busting consultants: Matt Patterson and Doug Seaton. Patterson is best known for his successful fight to prevent Volkswagen workers in Tennessee from organizing with the UAW. According to The Nation, Patterson likened his effort as being akin to the fight of Tennessee’s Confederate soldiers.

Employees of Mercy Health Hackley are very diverse, Hasan Zahdeh, the former president of the Michigan Union of Healthcare Workers, told the Nation. Zahdeh last December was charged with embezzling union funds, a development that will hardly foster union trust among health care workers.

Maine isn’t the only state where legislative leaders champion local hospitals and their workers. In California, Democratic Congresswoman Judy Chu publicly supported the union organization drive of nurses working at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena. Huntington Memorial retained two union-busting firms that engaged in aggressive intimidation tactics.

President Joe Biden, when he was campaigning, professed support for hospital workers at Mission Hospital in Asheville, NC, who wanted to unionize.

"I’m proud to stand by the Mission RNs in their collective bid for a better, safer, and more equitable workplace — an impressive show of solidarity not just for themselves, but for the health of their entire community," Biden told the nurses.

Biden could easily have intervened in the anti-union pressures placed on the nurse anesthetists working at Beaumont Royal Oak, Troy, and Grosse Pointe hospitals. NorthStar Anesthesia, the outsourcing firm that employs them, is owned by The Cranmere Group, a holding company whose previous CEO Jeffrey Zients resigned in December to co-head Biden’s transition team and is one of the president’s closest advisors.

Reach Eric Starkman at: Beaumont employees and vendors are encouraged to reach out, with confidentiality assured.

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