Don’t go Joe—Biden passes union protest to attend big money fundraiser
Former Vice President Joe Biden looks out the car window as he leaves after speaking at a rally in support of striking Stop & Shop workers in Boston, April 18, 2019. | Michael Dwyer / AP

LOS ANGELES—To answer the obvious question, no, Joe Biden did not cross a picket line on the way to a fundraiser in Los Angeles on May 8.

But the former vice president, now a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, and thought to appeal to at least one wing of the union movement—older white guys—may have a question or two to answer, too, to other unionists.

Here’s what happened:

Biden arrived, by car, at the Los Angeles driveway of Cynthia Talles, a rich board member of the Kaiser Foundation, the dominant voice in the Kaiser Permanente Health System, one of California’s huge hospital systems. She hosted a closed-door fundraiser for the ex-veep.

Outside on the sidewalk, peacefully protesting Kaiser’s conduct, were members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers West, the union that represents thousands of Kaiser workers.

Members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers-West protesting outside the home of Cynthia Telles, Kaiser Permanente Thrive board member, and licensed psychologist, and Joe Waz, Senior Strategic Advisor to Comcast Corporation. Cynthia Telles has refused to meet with her fellow psychologists over Kaiser’s lack of timely and adequate mental health care services. | NUHW

It’s also the union that’s been in a year-long struggle with Kaiser and its board over the hospital chain’s refusal to provide adequate mental health services—a refusal which has drawn the attention of California health officials, too. In 2013 alone, the state fined Kaiser $4 million for violating its Mental Health Services Parity Act, a prior union statement said.

And that’s what the NUHW members around Talles’s driveway were talking about.

“We were there to protest, not picket,” said NUHW spokesman Matt Artz. “The gates of the driveway opened, and Biden’s car went in.”

Once inside, Biden ignored Kaiser’s mental health performance—or lack of it—while schmoozing with Talles and other donors, he added. Unlike many of the other 20 Democratic presidential hopefuls, Biden still solicits big givers, instead of small donations over the internet.

Before the peaceful protest, NUHW President Sal Rosselli told Morning Star Biden should refuse money from Kaiser honchos. “He should take our side in this dispute. I think he should walk. He should cancel it,” Rosselli said of the fundraiser before it was held.

Last December, Kaiser forced its mental health clinicians, who are NUHW members, into a 5-day strike. They demanded Kaiser hire more therapists, stop forcing patients needing one-on-one care into group therapy, and they called on the company to reduce months-long wait times for appointments.

Kaiser has refused to spend more to lower the clinician-to-patient ratio, even though it earned $2.5 billion last year and has $42 billion in reserves. The union has recently stepped up its campaign through radio ads in key markets, including L.A.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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