The real CPMC story

Unsung heroes and how it all went down

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OPINION The recently announced terms for the development of California Pacific Medical Center's hospitals at Cathedral Hill and St. Luke's generated front-page and lead stories in the local news media. But nearly without exception, only part of the story was reported. Missing from most accounts of the terms of the new deal, which dramatically changed last year's failed draft development agreement negotiated by Mayor Ed Lee, was the decisive role played by a community/labor coalition, San Franciscans for Healthcare, Housing, Jobs and Justice.

Key details of the agreement have yet to be finalized, and provisions of the terms announced on March 5th need to be improved. But the new agreement, in virtually all respects, is an improvement over the old one. And on the same day the terms of the new deal was announced one of the union members of the coalition, the National Union of Healthcare Workers signed a contact with CPMC that protected union organizing rights, job security at Cathedral Hill and full employer paid health care — issues that had been unresolved over the last few years. Still missing is an ageement between Sutter and its nurses, a critical component of labor peace.

The basic structure of the current terms mirror almost exactly the positions outlined by the SFHHJJ over the last year, including a requirement for labor peace with all unions at CPMC. This was no accident; it was the result of the efforts of the community/labor coalition. When the old deal was stalled at the Board of Supervisors in early 2013 and it was clear that the Mayors Office had no idea how to proceed, the members of the coalition came up with a framework to get discussions going again. The key ingredient was the involvement of a skilled an knowledgeable mediator, mutually respected by all parties and the participation of Sutter Corp. in Sacramento — the real party able to make actual binding corporate commitments, not the subsidiary the mayor had dealt with.

The second step was to agree to a framework of issues that would form the substance of negotiations — and the coalition's own comprehensive set of positions served as that framework.

The next step was to get a critical mass of supervisors to agree to participate in the negotiations. Two Supervisors, David Chiu and David Campos, agreed to the coalition's framework and the use of a third-party mediator. They added a third supervisor, Mark Farrell, to their group in order to assure buy-in from the full board.

Finally, the mediator had to be found and in that the coalition (and the rest of the city) simply were lucky that Lou Girardo was willing and able to provide his own special skills and credibility.

The SFHHJJ is not the first community/labor coalition in San Francisco history. Such coalitions were present in both the District 1 and District 5 supervisors races last year with mixed success, and in 2008 a community/labor coalition fought for revenue measures, again with mixed success but real unity. A new labor/community coalition has emerged to oppose Scott Wiener's ill-advised weakening of our local California Environmental Policy Act procedures.

As the Democratic Party transforms itself into ever greater political irrelevancy by becoming the home of moderate Republicanism at all levels of government, community and labor co-operation seems to be growing over an increasing number of issues, showing a level of political vibrancy impossible to ignore.

Calvin Welch is a longtime community organizer in San Francisco and is a member of the SFHHJJ CPMC Negotiating Committee