CPMC strike linked to new hospital

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Who's paying for this again?

I stopped by the picket line outside Davies hospital and chatted with the members of Operating Engineers Local 39, who have been working without a contract since October, 2010 -- and I heard a story that ought to be part of the discussion over CPMC's plans to build a shiny new hospital on Cathedral Hill.

The striking engineers (who operate and maintain machinery and equipment at the hospitals) say the only remaining issue in the dispute is pay scale -- and the last, best offer that CPMC, a Sutter Health affiliate, has put on the table is lower than what Sutter pays members of the same union at other Bay Area hospitals. Why? According to Joseph Klein, Local 39 business rep, the CPMC negotiators were pretty specific:

"They told us they need the money to build their new hospital."

The CPMC negotiators, he said, "don't even question whether they can afford to pay us comparable salaries. They just say they want to spend the money on that project."

Wow -- that's the first time I've heard anything so detailed and specific about CPMC essentially using lower wages to help fund the Cathedral Hill medical palace. So I called Kathie Graham, spokesperson for CPMC, and asked her about it.

"The primary reason for our offer was that the wage we proposed was comparable to the raises that our other hospital workers got," she said.

Okay, but was the cost of the new hospital a factor? Actually, yes.

"The primary issue is equity," she said. "But do we have a billion-dollar rebuild that we have to fund? Yes. Because of the whole way health care is going -- and because we need to rebuild -- we have to be very careful stewards of our nonprofit dollars."

Both sides want to go back to the bargaining table, and I know labor talks are always complicated, and I hope it gets resolved quickly. But I think it's fair to say that all CMPC workers need to take a lesson here: It's going to be hard bargaining for quite some time to come.

And I hope the supervisors who are reviewing this consider where the construction money is coming from.