The writer, a Los Angeles freelancer and former Detroit News business reporter. He blogs at StarkmanApproved.com.
By Eric Starkman
If UAW president Shawn Fain is looking to learn how to make companies bend to his will, he should apply for an internship with the Teamsters.
With its tail between its corporate legs, Corewell Health has signed another three-year agreement with NorthStar Anesthesia, the Texas-based outsourcing firm that took over the anesthesiology functions of the company’s Royal Oak, Troy, and Grosse Pointe hospitals formerly owned by Beaumont Health. Corewell had hoped to get rid of NorthStar and bring its anesthesiology functions in house and directly employ the 80 or so NorthStar anesthesiologists and 200 nurse anesthetists serving its northern hospitals. None of them would sign on.
The NorthStar anesthetists, many of whom were thrown to the curb by Beaumont’s former management, belong to the Teamsters and insisted that any contract negotiations had to be with their union. Corewell refused to recognize the Teamsters’ representation and warned the nurse anesthetists they could lose their seniority and their jobs if they didn’t agree to work directly for the hospital.
The initial deadline was September 1, and then it was extended to September 15. The NorthStar anesthetists refused to blink.
Corewell Health spokesman Mark Geary ignored a request for comment. NorthStar declined to comment.
Most U.S. hospitals fear unions because of their growing and effective representation of nurses, who increasingly are moving to organize. Beaumont’s former management spent nearly $2 million on union busters to successfully derail an organizing attempt by its Royal Oak hospital nurses to organize. NorthStar’s nurse anesthetists working for Corewell's northern Metro Detroit hospitals formed their own union upon joining the outsourcing company and last fall became a part of the Teamsters.
Despite losing more than a dozen prestigious surgeons in recent years, Royal Oak remains one of the nation’s busiest surgical centers, performing about 200 surgeries a day. Industry experts said it would be impossible for Corewell to adequately staff up with requisite anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists by December 31, when NorthStar’s contract with the hospital ended.
The impetus to replace NorthStar and return anesthesiology in house was made by Benjamin Schwartz, the hotshot New York physician Corewell hired with great fanfare just over a year ago to run Beaumont’s former hospital network, the biggest in southeastern Michigan. Corewell in August announced Schwartz’s departure, which it said was a “mutual decision.”
Corewell is the name of the merged operations of Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health and Southfield-based Beaumont Health. Spectrum took control of Beaumont a year ago last February after the FTC signaled it wouldn’t block the takeover.
Schwartz has been replaced on an interim basis by Darryl Elmouchi, Corewell’s chief operating officer, who is from southeastern Michigan. Elmouchi’s correspondence with employees is considerably more open and genuine than his boss, CEO Tina Freese Decker. He’s also better credentialed, having earned his MD degree from the University of Michigan and his MBA from its Ross School of Business.
Freese Decker has masters degrees in health administration and industrial engineering from the University of Iowa but she has no medical credentials. Freese Decker’s employee communications are fraught with insincerity, such as inappropriately invoking the memory of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in an email about layoffs.
Elmouchi has demonstrated he is a decisive leader, having promptly removed Tim Lyons, president of Corewell’s Grosse Pointe hospital, as head of the planned NorthStar anesthesiology transition almost immediately upon his arrival.
While hospital executives don’t like unions, studies show that hospitals with unionized nurses provide superior patient care. One need to look no further than Michigan Medicine, which is one of the best hospitals in the country and is unionized. Well run hospitals also avoid strikes; Michigan Medicine negotiated a contract with its nurses last October and avoided a work stoppage.
The Teamsters represent 35,000 healthcare workers across North America are looking to expand its presence.
Meanwhile, for all Shawn Fain’s bluster and initial demands for a 40% pay raise, Bloomberg reported that he’s willing to settle for a 30% increase. Teamsters chief Sean O’Brien, a self-described SOB, demanded one of the biggest pay raises in decades from UPS and he got what he asked for.
Fain also accused Stellantis of fostering violence on the union’s picket lines, but the company’s response put him to shame. If you haven’t seen it, here it is – one of the most masterful and powerful corporate statements I’ve ever read.
If UAW members are looking for leadership that can get the job done, they might consider joining the Teamsters.
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