A union is out to ruin West Suburban Medical Center. Like a guy with a fedora making you an offer you cannot refuse, AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) is demanding that the hospital unionize or else. The “or else” means continued mailings from the union that make wild claims about the hospital being unsafe.

The union argues that West Sub is worse than other area hospitals, such as Loyola and Gottlieb, in patient care. The mailings left me with the impression that unionized hospitals provide better care than non-unionized hospitals. But wait. Loyola is not a union shop and neither is Gottlieb. Seems truth is an elusive concept for our union brothers and sisters when it comes to West Sub.

If the union is not promising patients better care in a unionized hospital, what is it promising? The long and the short is better wages for West Sub workers through collective bargaining. And that sounds like a promising proposition. What could be so bad about higher wages?

Well, higher wages and inflexible union work rules could prove the death knell for West Sub in the post-health care reform environment. West Sub’s mission is to provide services to as many paying customers from the Oak Park area as possible while also providing free or dramatically discounted services to many low-income residents from the West Side who show up at the emergency room.

This unique mission means that West Sub has different challenges from hospitals such as Northwestern. It’s safe to say that West Sub employees make less than their peers at Northwestern. This is because almost all of Northwestern’s patients have those huge insurance plans everyone is talking about. Most West Sub patients do not. Less money coming in the door means less to pay employees.

If health care reform is going to succeed, cost savings will have to come from hospitals like West Sub. That’s right. Instead of increasing West Sub’s costs by raising wages as the union hopes, health care reform could well mean that West Sub will operate on less money. West Sub could have fewer employees than today and could even pay them lower wages.

But AFSCME’s claims about dangerous conditions at West Sub were too much for me to ignore. So I began my own secret investigation. Recently I made a stop at West Sub’s emergency room for what turned out to be kidney stones. The union had me anticipating a Civil War surgical tent and bodies with limbs akimbo. Instead, I found a smooth-running emergency room with staff and x-ray technicians who were professional, kind and efficient. They found the stone, prescribed the appropriate treatment and sent me home. So who is telling the truth about West Sub?

AFSCME gets to exercise its free speech rights, and I get to exercise mine. AFSCME can go scratch.

Jack Crowe is a third-generation Oak Parker. He cycles with the Lake and Harlem group, volunteers at Christ the King Jesuit College Prep in Austin and sometimes performs at the Village Players Performing Arts Center.

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