Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Blue Shield's union ties raise concerns about conflicts

Quoted in this piece in the Los Angeles Times. 

Here is an excerpt:

At a time when public-sector unions across the country are fighting to hold on to generous retirement and health benefits, one of the loudest voices standing up for their rights is Dave Low.

A longtime labor activist, Low carries considerable clout as executive director of the California School Employees Assn., a 215,000-member union that represents bus drivers, custodians and other school workers. He also leads a broader group of 1.5 million government employees, including firefighters, police and teachers, called Californians for Health Care and Retirement Security.
But Low had another job as well until recently. He was a consultant for Blue Shield of California, which has secured lucrative health insurance contracts that cover many of the same public workers that Low represents. His contract shows he was to be paid up to $125,000 a year for his work, which went from 2004 until Aug. 31.
Low isn't the only person with union ties pulling double duty for Blue Shield. One of the insurance company's senior executives also works as a lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union, which represents nearly 300,000 government workers statewide.
Experts say those close ties between Blue Shield and key labor unions may give the nonprofit company undue influence over multimillion-dollar insurance contracts for public employees. It's common in California for a joint panel of labor and management officials to pick the winning insurance bidders and set many of the terms.
"This raises red flags about conflicts of interest and self-dealing," said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who studies public corruption. "It really starts to feel offensive when the public money at stake is so huge."

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