By Chris Roberts
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
By Mike Billings
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Sherbert
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
In ordinary times, the nursing home rights bill would be the kind of legislation a union representing nursing home workers might support -- particularly given the bill was aimed at enforcing laws requiring nursing home facilities to hire more workers. More workers per patient means fewer overworked orderlies and nurses, and fewer patients who sit for extended periods in their own feces or with infected bedsores, or lie dying from dehydration or starvation, or from all of these things at once. Orderlies don't particularly like working in ghoulish, penny-pinching institutions where owners skimp on staff and training.
From a nursing home chain shareholder's point of view, on the other hand, the closer a home can be run to the model of a self-service gas station, with lots of customers and few employees, the fatter the bottom line. Beverly Enterprises, where Carlson was vice president, seems to boast of pursuing this tightfisted tactic in a recent message to investors: "Going forward, we will focus on continual improvement of our leaner, and stronger, skilled nursing facility portfolio."
A year ago, these seemingly opposed interest groups appeared to align, as the SEIU entered a compact with the owners of California's for-profit nursing homes. The compact involved a coldblooded trade-off: The SEIU agreed to use its connections with the representatives of the California Democratic Party for nursing home industry goals, such as resisting attempts at regulation. In exchange, SEIU officials told me, nursing home chains pledged to allow union organizers unfettered access to employees in their facilities. Previously, nursing home chains have resisted union organizing efforts with Wal-Mart-like verve.
Curious as to what the SEIU had received in return for blocking stricter enforcement of laws designed to prevent elderly neglect, I called union spokesman Tim Jemal. I asked Jemal if there were any new collective bargaining agreements resulting from the union organizing portion of the lobbying pact.
"Example? I cannot give you a specific example, but I can tell you that the SEIU, that it is through organizing that the union is able to help workers have better lives," Jemal said.
Are there any specific organizing drives that resulted from the lobbying agreement, regardless of whether the union obtained a contract?
Jemal said he would need to find a union organizer to speak with me, and that one would call me. That was last week. I'm still waiting.
Which could lead one to suggest that the SEIU is being played for a patsy by the nursing home industry, that the union has agreed to sacrifice its public image as a champion of the underdog by selling nursing home patients down the river in exchange for a promise that doesn't seem to have materialized.
The SEIU-nursing home industry lobbying pact "just seems to me a real unfortunate contraction of the broader social vision that the best unions have had and tried to project in a lot of different ways. They're not just representing the members, but they're trying to be a voice for all members and consumers, too," Early said. "It's like building your own position at the expense of the labor movement as a whole."
Not to mention at their own expense. Service workers grow old like everyone else, and many of them will end up in nursing homes left underregulated at their own union's hands.
Eric Jaye, who became cock o' the walk among S.F. Democratic political consultants two years ago by pushing Gavin Newsom over the top in the mayor's race against Matt Gonzalez, is playing the phones, working yet another fat contract.
Jaye has been hired by Clint Reilly -- during the 1980s the big daddy among California campaign consultants, now a downtown commercial landlord and local political dabbler -- to run Reilly's wife, a thin, attractive, fortysomething, blond former press flack for ex-L.A. Mayor Dick Riordan, for the state Assembly.
Reilly's given Jaye plenty to work with, wangling an S.F. fund-raising appearance by none other than John Kerry this Friday on his wife's behalf. "To have the leader of the party host a fund-raiser, that's extremely significant," Jaye says. "Janet is concerned about the state of health in California. To have Kerry, who is so active and successful an advocate for health care in the Senate, it's good politics and great for Janet."
Perhaps. Or perhaps Clint Reilly spent last year filling up his favor bank making phone calls and raising funds on behalf of the Kerry for President campaign, as I've been told by a half-dozen different local and state politicians, political consultants, and political fixers. Reilly donated $2,000 to Kerry's presidential campaign and raised at least another $25,000 for the national Democratic cause, Federal Election Commission records show.
And perhaps Kerry's political handlers have unadvisedly allowed their boss to wander into one of the more banal and ugly catacombs of San Francisco's network of political intrigue. This one involves age-old personal vendettas, smarmy political deals, venal financial interests, and layer upon layer of petty power plays -- a fine place, in other words, to avoid, unless you've somehow failed to keep up to political speed, cynicismwise.
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