One of Hawaii’s largest labor unions has gone to court in an effort to prevent the state from privatizing its public hospitals.

United Public Workers, which represents state employees working for health facilities among others, filed a complaint in federal court seeking an injunction to stop the state from implementing House Bill 1075, the union announced Thursday.

“Privatization of our state hospitals would have a profound effect on the communities they were originally intended to serve,” Dayton Nakanelua, UPW state director, said in a news release.

Maui Memorial

UPW wants to prevent the state from privatizing Maui Memorial, seen here.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

The bill, which Gov. David Ige signed into law in June as Act 104, allows the Maui region of the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation to negotiate a deal to turn one or more state-owned medical facilities into private non-profit corporations. The act specifically lists as candidates Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital & Clinic, and Lanai Community Hospital.

Maui Memorial, which employs 1,500 people, is the county’s only full-service, acute medical care facility and only hospital outside Oahu that provides a full range of cardiac services, according to the Governor’s Office. More than 45,000 people go to the emergency room there annually.

Worried about layoffs, Nakanelua cautioned how reducing employees can affect patients and their families.

“We have to keep in mind that health care is about people, and people should be the number one priority,” he said.

UPW is arguing that the legislation violates the contract clause in the U.S. Constitution, which prevents the government from abrogating its contracts. The union has two contracts with the state; both go till June 30, 2017.

Maui Sens. Gilbert Keith-Agaran and Roz Baker, along with House Speaker Joe Souki and Reps. Kaniela Ing, Angus McKelvey and Della Au Belatti, all joined Ige when he signed the bill in Wailuku with Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa and Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui.

“The signing of this bill is a necessary milestone in our community’s ongoing journey to not just preserve our local hospitals but to move all of us — residents, doctors, nurses and hospital staff — forward toward a stronger health care system,” Keith-Agaran said at the time.

HHSC has faced huge budget shortfalls, which the Legislature has partially covered with emergency appropriations. The Maui region expects to be more than $46 million in the hole for fiscal 2015.

Baker said in June that she trusts that “the due diligence and negotiations will go forward as expeditiously as possible so there will be minimal disruptions in any of these important services.”

The governor’s office is reviewing the complaint.

“The governor is aware that a Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief was filed and served on the state this afternoon,” said Cindy McMillan, Ige’s spokeswoman. “The Complaint is being reviewed by the Department of the Attorney General and other appropriate counsel.”

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