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NLRB hearing on firing of Affinity nurse Ann Wayt is Monday

IndeOnline.com, 4/29/13

Local nurses are showing support for the rights of registered nurses by attending a National Labor Relations Board hearing in Cleveland that begins Monday, and by wearing stickers that read “I Stand with Ann for RNs’ Rights.”

These stickers may be seen on nurses in other states as well, and refer to Ann Wayt, an orthopedic nurse and 24-year employee at Affinity Medical Center, who was fired from her job Sept. 26. This was weeks after nurses at the hospital voted to join the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC).

The NNOC and National Nurses United have filed an unfair labor practice charge against Affinity, which is owned by Community Health Systems, alleging retaliation against Wayt for her union activism. The National Labor Relations Board found this charge had merit and issued a complaint against Affinity.   

This charge and other issues will be heard at a hearing at 1 p.m. Monday in front of an administrative law judge at the Federal Office building, 1240 E. Ninth St., Cleveland.

“The hospital believes that the various charges are without merit,” said Susan Koosh, vice president of marketing and community relations at Affinity, in a prepared statement. “We intend to mount a vigorous defense against these allegations in the appropriate forum of the judicial system.”

Other issues to be heard at the hearing include the employer allegedly denying union representative Michelle Mahon access to the hospital, the employer allegedly threatening to physically harm registered nurses who filled out Assignment Despite Objection forms, and the employer’s refusal to bargain.

Local nurses will be wearing stickers at work to show their support of Wayt, and some plan to attend a day or two of the hearing in Cleveland, which may last all week, said Mahon, a registered nurse and national         representative based in Cleveland for National Nurses United.

Nurses seek collective bargaining

Wayt was among a group of Affinity nurses that pushed unionization efforts ostensibly in hopes of improving patient care and safety, and establishing guidelines for staff-to-patient ratios. She was fired after management accused her of falsifying patient records, failing to follow hospital protocol and violating patient-privacy laws.

The union has been certified and is trying to negotiate a contract with the hospital.

Pam Gardner, a registered nurse in the intensive-care unit who has worked at Affinity the past nine years, said she hopes that not only will the trial bring about justice for Wayt, but also will help the union have its first contract negotiations.

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“Ann is going to get justice for what happened to her,” Gardner said. “She’s been waiting a long time. We want to stand together for Ann.”

In 2008, Wayt was the recipient of the Affinity Medical Center Nurse Excellence Award and was the Cameos of Caring recipient for the University of Akron College of Nursing.

“We’re hoping it will make things a lot easier for us,” Gardner said. “Our goal is to have our first contract.”

Nurses from hospitals in Ohio, West Virginia and California are facing the same challenges, Mahon said.  

“This isn’t only happening in Massillon,” Mahon said. “This is happening across the United States.”

She said nurses have the duty by law to protest assignments that may jeopardize safe patient guidelines.

“Unfortunately, nurses have the duty, but they don’t have the right,” Mahon said. “That’s our legal duty. They’re trying to follow the law and keep their patients safe. When you respect nurses, you respect patients.”

One of the reasons nurses organize is so they may advocate for patients’ safety without fear of retribution from their employers. Gardner echoed Mahon’s sentiments.

“A contract means respect for our nurses and respect for our patients,” Gardner said. “We really can benefit from having a contract as nurses. We’re legally obligated to advocate for our patients. Without a nurse’s union it’s difficult to advocate.”

Last month, the union organized pickets outside the hospital to protest unfair labor practices that they say discourage nurses from reporting unsafe working conditions.

“Our community is really lucky that they have nurses that are willing to stand up for patient care,” Gardner said. “We believe patient care should be a guarantee in the hospital in every area of the hospital every day.”

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