By Dave Jamieson and Ryan Grim
WASHINGTON — In recent months, the management at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System has approached workers with a set of proposals that include layoffs and cuts to pensions and health benefits. In doing so, the administration at the publicly funded Monterey County, Calif., hospital has asked its workers to make concessions typical of this budget-tightening era.
But rather than roll over, the union of nurses, technicians and other hospital workers has rejected management’s proposal, instead launching a counter attack on the executives themselves. The hospital’s top officials now face a firestorm in the local media and an audit from the state of California. The layoffs and benefit cuts are, at least for now, on hold.
It’s a sharp break from the national labor playbook. From Maine to California, unions have been negotiating just how deep the concessions they’ll give to management will be. Even in Wisconsin, public workers immediately accepted drastic cuts to pay, pensions and health care, drawing the line only at the right to collectively bargain. In Washington, D.C., Democrats have similarly capitulated to GOP demands for major cuts in social spending under reasoning succinctly laid out by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio): “We’re broke.”
The Salinas hospital workers’ response, in essence, serves as a rebuttal: No, you’re not broke. And we can prove it.