It's one thing when Rep. Bob Filner doesn't like what's going on at Rady Children's Hospital. It's another thing when a church pastor pledges to withdraw his support and his fundraising power-$1 million a year for the last 12 years-from the facility.
Both Filner and Wayne Riggs, the pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church in North Park and a member of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, spoke at a town-hall-style meeting in Kearney Mesa on Oct. 19, not too far up the freeway from the hospital.
"I will begin contributing again when there is a just settlement to this labor dispute," said Riggs.
The dispute involves service workers at Children's who are asking for wage increases and monthly stipends to help defray rising healthcare costs. According to the Service Employees International Union, which represents some 700 nursing assistants, clerical workers, cooks, housekeepers and home-care technicians at Children's, 13 percent of those workers make less than $10 an hour and almost half make less than what a pro-labor group considers to be the San Diego area's "self-sufficiency" wage of $13.20 an hour. Some employees say they have had to forgo health coverage altogether, instead relying on the hospital's charity-care program when their kids get sick.
In August, CityBeat wrote about Maria Ramirez, a 62-year-old housekeeper at Children's Hospital who's worked there for 36 years and hasn't received a raise since she hit her $11.41 hourly wage cap a decade ago. She lives with her son in Chula Vista and has struggled to squirrel away $60 a month into a 401k plan for a retirement that seems nearly impossible to afford.
John Borsos, the vice president for SEIU/United Healthcare Workers West, who's been one of the lead negotiators in contract talks with hospital management, said both sides' most recent proposals would cost roughly the same amount of money-$30 million over the life of a two-year contract, with the union's proposal coming in at about $13,000 more. The differences between the two, Borsos said, have largely to do with equity. Under the hospital's proposal, some, not all, employees would get raises, and all would get between $15 and $35 a month to put toward health-insurance costs. Under the union's proposal, everyone would get a wage adjustment until July 2008, when the health-insurance stipend would increase to $75 a month (from the same $15 to $35 stipend proposed by the hospital) for each employee.
"From our perspective, it's so blatantly unfair how underpaid everyone is that to say some people get a wage increase and others don't, it makes absolutely no sense," Borsos said.
A Children's Hospital spokesperson did not respond to CityBeat's requests for an interview.
SEIU is using to its advantage the fact that, although the hospital hit a financial rough spot a few years ago, revenues increased roughly 400 percent between 2004 and 2005.
"When you look at a hospital that had $30 million in profit last year and received a $60 million donation from the Rady family, the idea of them being able to settle the contract is certainly something that's affordable to them," Borsos said.
Borsos pointed to SEIU's successful contract negotiations with five Riverside County hospitals in September. Four of those hospitals pay full employee healthcare costs and the fifth will do so in January. All five hospitals agreed to across-the-board raises. "These are hospitals that have not done as well as Children's of San Diego," he said.
Two weeks ago, SEIU filed a complaint against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board, Borsos said, after hospital management refused to return to the bargaining table. "We'll continue to put pressure on the hospital to agree to a fair contract," he added.
Whether or not Filner plans to exert an influence over negotiations is yet to be seen. He didn't return a call from CityBeat by press time. But at the meeting on Oct. 19, he told workers he supported their struggle. (Staff from Rep. Susan Davis' office, state Sen. Chris Kehoe's office and Assemblymember Lori Saldana's office were also at the meeting.)
"If you're part of the team, you ought to be treated as part of the team and given respect," Filner said. "You ought to be able to make a living wage for your family, you ought to have healthcare you can afford-you'd think that working at a hospital, that would be one of the priorities."