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Hospital, union reach agreement

The Pueblo Chieftan, 12/7/10

The Pueblo Chieftan
By Loretta Sword
December 10, 2010

Facing a federal trial over alleged anti-union activity at the hospital, St. Mary Corwin Medical Center has reached an agreement with the National Labor Relations Board to stop alleged harassment and coercion of nurses who favor union representation.

  Officials of St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center, Centura Health and Catholic Health Initiatives on Monday signed a settlement agreement with the NLRB that arose from claims that the hospital illegally interfered with nurses' efforts to organize a bargaining unit and communicate with representatives of the National Nurses Organizing Committee-Colorado/National Nurses United.

  Nurses and NNOC/NNU earlier this year filed complaints with the NLRB over a wide range of issues related to hospital policy and practice that they claimed was intended to stifle union activity and interest.

  Regional NLRB representatives investigated the claims and found some to have merit. The hospital and union officials were notified by phone of that decision last week.

  The hospital was given the choice between negotiating a settlement agreement or going to trial on formal charges in federal court, according to union spokeswoman Jo Romero.

  By signing the agreement, Romero said, the hospital has promised to stop "illegal anti-union behavior" that she said included prohibiting off-duty nurses to freely communicate with other nurses on hospital grounds, illegal discipline against union supporters, and "pervasive surveillance of nurses by security guards and supervisors."

  The hospital within days is expected to post numerous copies of a lengthy document spelling out employee rights to participate in union discussions, meetings and related activities as well as actions on the hospital's part that would constitute violation of federal labor law.

  For instance, the new solicitation policy prohibits union activity only in patient-care areas, but allows it in public areas of the hospital.

  Monday's settlement also explicitly prohibits discipline against nurses who are suspected of or observed participating in union activity, and calls for the removal of all personnel records related to disciplinary actions taken against two pro-union nurses earlier this year. They are to be notified in writing after the records have been removed from their files.

  NNOC-NNU spokeswoman Liz Jacobs said the NLRB allows employers in St. Mary-Corwin's position to avoid any admission of wrongdoing unless a negotiated agreement follows violations of a previous agreement overseen by the federal agency.

 St. Mary-Corwin CEO Rob Ryder said last week that he remained convinced that the hospital has not violated any federal labor laws but settled with the NLRB to avoid a costly and divisive federal trial.

  Referring to the management philosophies and practices of Centura Health, a statewide hospital management company, St. Mary-Corwin intensive care nurse Gail Martinez said nurses "understand that the shameful policies of pressuring RNs that has characterized much of the hospital’s behavior may have come from outside our community.

  “Now the hospital has an opportunity to turn the page in its relationship with its nurses, and join us in pledging a fair, democratic (union) election for the nurses once and for all.”

  Romero had stronger words about the settlement. "If they violate anything that's posted, the notices get ripped down off the wall and we move right to trial. We don't trust them. (Ryder) said he was going to uphold the National Labor Relations Act, but obviously he has not," she said.

  "Now we can get back to the table, get a neutrality agreement and move forward. But we need the assurance and protection," provided in Monday's settlement agreement.

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