Source: Unite Here!
A number of articles have been written about Unite Here, a union representing hotel workers, calling for pharmaceutical companies to stop funding continuing medical education (see Pharmalot; Meeting-Conventions; BioPharmaDIVE). Most have noted that a hospitality workers’ union is an unusual critic of CME funding, but have not touched on Unite Here’s ten year history of calling for businesses and tourists to boycott the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. This hotel is one of a list of places that Unite Here, (specifically, their San Francisco branch “Local 2”) has targeted for being a non-union hotel.
Perhaps not coincidentally, last month a summit for CME conference organizers was held at the Wharf. Prior to the meeting, conference speakers and attendees received intimidating calls and letters about protests around the hotel during the conference. One email stated:
We urge you to honor the boycotts and not use these hotels for any purpose, including meetings, sleeping accommodations or dining. Violating hotel boycotts and crossing picket lines can reflect poorly on your organization or business. Additionally, the effects of frequent rallies and protests going on outside the hotel, sometimes as early as 7 AM, may inconvenience you or your company’s employees (emphasis added).
In April, the hotel sent a letter to conference attendees alleviating some of the confusion and safety concerns. Apparently, Unite Here has used threats of meeting disruption for over a decade due to disputes with the Hyatt (which has since undergone a change in ownership). The letter raised legitimate questions as to whether Local 2 had the best interests of the Hyatt’s workers in mind, and assured attendees that despite the ongoing disagreement between the hotel and the union, the Wharf had hosted “countless” events “without material disruption.”
Indeed, the summit turned out to be protest-free. Less than one week after the conference, however, Unite Here released a new initiative against commercially-supported continuing medical education, arguing that the costs of its members’ healthcare plans were rising due to drug prices. “[T]he union is concerned doctors may be unduly influenced by contributions from Big Pharma to prescribe more expensive drugs when more affordable, generic alternatives are available,” they wrote.
The Union also noted that CME creates employment opportunities for its members. “CME activities are a vital source of revenue and jobs in the hospitality industry,” the press release states. “UNITE HERE has communicated broadly with leaders in medical industry about best practices for supporting good hospitality jobs. UNITE HERE understands working with the medical industry will help improve the quality of healthcare for workers and their families across the nation.”
This press release received added attention by a WSJ article that quoted Daniel Carlat, MD, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts School of Medicine and noted industry-critic. He approved Unite Here’s unexpected new platform (though didn’t mention the job-creation aspect included in the union’s press release):
[The union is] an unusually credible source. They have no vested interest in limiting industry funding of CME other than the desire to decrease their health care costs. You can’t attack them as being academics or ‘pharmascolds’ trying to get publicity on the issue to further their careers or to gain fame. These are simply workers who observe first-hand how companies spend money to influence doctors, and they are tired of paying the price in terms of increased health care costs.
However, history reveals that Unite Here does have a vested interest in targeting medical meetings—similar to their targeting of Wharton business school, Air Canada, and the Financial Women of San Francisco. All of these organizations have been similarly attacked by Unite Here for hosting a conference or event at particular hotels in the Bay Area.
“The Financial Women of San Francisco Association [ ] has chosen to ignore the Le Meridien workers campaign for justice and equality by repeatedly using the Le Meridien San Francisco for their monthly mixers…”
“Air Canada’s management has continually ignored the hotel workers call for boycott. This arrogance has ensured that their airline pilots and crew now have to cross picket lines and face other actions that may be disruptive to their stay…Airline pilots have the demanding job of keeping our families safe. Pilots and crew members should be afforded the luxury of being lodged at a hotel where they can get the rest needed to perform their duties safely.”
“The poor choices made by the Wharton administration to use the Le Meridien for Wharton EMBA students are shameful and have reflected poorly on the reputation of the Wharton School…This irresponsible position has forced approximately $19,250.00 of each EMBA student’s tuition is being spent to place them in an uncomfortable environment” (sic).
In the past month alone, Unite Here began a smear campaign against Lone Star Funds, a private equity manager, soon after the company acquired numerous Hyatt hotels. Unite Here launched a website entitled “Loan Shark Funds,” solely dedicated to the union’s cause against the company. In June, Unite Here brought similar campaigns against Inland Bank and Xenia Hotels.
They have also launched websites recently against multiple medical meetings here are links to several of those protests. Sleep 2015, AATS and a travel alert against 14 medical meetings in Las Vegas and multiple medical meetings in Seattle. Note in one article they criticize a speaker at the AATS meeting, failing to mention that they were also protesting that meeting.
While we understand a union works for its members, we think it is important to acknowledge that Unite Here’s stance against CME came soon after protesting multiple medical meetings and a medical education summit was held at a Hyatt—the union’s target for over a decade. This group has every right to make their employment grievances heard. However, we believe choosing CME as a target is misguided. The rising cost of healthcare is an issue that continues to be of utmost importance, and ACCME-accredited CME helps lower costs associated with outdated or sub-optimal care. Doctors in a wide range of communities benefit from learning new, effective therapies and how to eliminate practice gaps. This can ultimately improve patients’ lives over the long term—and save costs in the process.