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SMC, NLRB dispute continues

The Pueblo Chieftain, 4/9/12

Nurses and union officials claim that St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center has violated a days-old agreement to stop activities cited in a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, so the complaints have been reinstated.

Jo Romero, a spokeswoman for National Nurses Organizing Committee-Colorado/National Nurses Union, said Friday that the hospital, after settling a case filed by nurses with the NLRB, neglected to post copies of the March 29 settlement as required. The hospital this week also issued a new rule prohibiting all employees from wearing buttons that bear a message of any kind. (The complaint that led to the March 29 settlement agreement included allegations that the hospital unlawfully prohibited the wearing of pro-union buttons.)

In response to the new anti-button policy, the nurses and union group Friday filed a formal request with the NLRB, seeking rescission of the March 29 agreement, reinstatement of all 14 allegations of harassment against the hospital contained in the original complaint, and addition of new claims related to the hospital-wide mandate against buttons of any kind

"We're asking the NLRB to rescind the agreement and reinstate charges against the hospital, including a new charge of trying to promulgate a new rule . . . in order to stifle freedom of speech," Romero said, adding that members of an existing union have been allowed to wear buttons bearing their logo and slogans "for years."

Friday's filing could mean the NLRB will continue gathering evidence and proceed toward potential prosecution of the hospital on all or some of the labor-law violations alleged in the original complaint and the newest one.

The original complaint alleges that the hospital forbids nurses from talking about the union at work, interrogates nurses about their conversations with co-workers and conducts surveillance of pro-union nurses.

The reinstated complaint adds allegations related to the new no-button policy, and a claim that the hospital also issued a policy against posting union literature on employee bulletin boards — after having allowed the practice until now.

St. Mary-Corwin spokeswoman Rochelle Kelly DeVargas said Friday that the hospital hadn't been notified of any further action by the nurses or union officials, and officials would assume there is still a valid settlement agreement in place unless formally notified otherwise.

She said notices of the settlement signed by both parties on March 29 hadn't been posted on employee bulletin boards because the hospital hasn't yet received them.

During an earlier interview, on Thursday, Kelly DeVargas said that the NLRB investigation found "several" of the union's allegations to be without merit and that "a number of allegations regarding the application of our solicitation policy and personal appearance policy" remained unresolved despite the settlement.

"Rather than litigate these allegations and divert significant resources to legal fees at the expense of our more important priorities, we decided to settle the allegations. In the settlement agreement with the NLRB, we do not admit to any wrongdoing. We simply thought it was better to move on and keep our focus on patient care, where it belongs. The union has signed off on the settlement agreement," Kelly DeVargas said.

NNOC has been meeting with St. Mary-Corwin nurses for more than a year in attempts to form a union here. The organization and some local nurses have repeatedly accused the hospital of refusing to sign "a fair election agreement" backed by other Catholic hospitals and the pope.

Kelly DeVargas said there ‘‘is no issue regarding a ‘fair election agreement.’ We have always stated that we will abide by the law, the National Labor Relations Act and their provisions regarding the proper filing of an election petition and holding of an election.’’

CEO Rob Ryder, however, has declined to sign the specific document, backed by Catholic bishops nationwide, that union organizers want him to sign.

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