Backroom deal to change earthquake standards in California hospitals collapses

A secret deal between a group of hospitals trying to weaken seismic upgrades at medical centers and a powerful union wanting to raise staff salaries fell through on Tuesday, just days after it was made public.

The last-minute alliance between Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West and California Hospital Assn. enraged other unions, who accused the unlikely pair of making a backroom deal that sidestepped the legislative process and put patients, healthcare workers and communities at risk.

In a hospital association memo obtained by The Times, the group said the deal with SEIU-UHW came quickly and followed years of crippled attempts to delay a state law requiring hospital buildings to receive earthquake upgrades by 2030. Hospitals estimate these upgrades will cost $100 billion, a bill they say will likely result in statewide closures.

Before the deal broke, the Hospital Association and SEIU-UHW were locked in a bitter battle to raise the minimum wage for Los Angeles County hospital workers. The agreement between the two would have required lawmakers to sign the deal before the end of the August 31 legislative session.

The California Hospital Assn. called for a seven-year delay in 2030 standards and for the standards to be limited to hospital buildings that provide emergency services, according to a draft proposal seen by The Times.

In exchange, unions would see the minimum wage for healthcare workers raised to $19-$24 an hour starting Jan. 1, with the higher wage going to workers in counties designated as urban or semi-urban. Wage would have increased by $1 an hour in 2024, raising the hourly minimum wage to $25 for some workers.

SEIU-UHW on Tuesday accused the hospital association of backing down from “a conceptual agreement” on work-related provisions. In response, the union announced that it would instead enforce the statewide minimum wage for healthcare workers, which it sought in the agreement through the state legislature or an electoral act.

The hospital association wrote in the memo that the deal “has not been able to move forward this year due to a number of factors, including high stakes, a tight schedule, CHA’s pledge not to agree to changes that would undermine the protections of this proposed bill, and other groups.” organized labor in opposition.”

“We know that this strategy has led to difficult and sometimes controversial discussions,” the hospital association’s memo said.

Almost all hospital buildings in the state met seismic standards under a 1994 law designed to ensure none collapse in the event of a major earthquake. The law was passed after this year’s Northridge earthquake that severely damaged hospitals.

According to the same law, a higher standard must be met by 2030 – that after a major earthquake, hospitals can not only remain standing, but also be able to operate. Nearly three decades later, nearly two-thirds of California hospitals still have to meet 2030 requirements, according to the hospital association.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-23/hospital-earthquake-standards-deal-collapses Backroom deal to change earthquake standards in California hospitals collapses

Alley Einstein

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