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Federal Court Issues Sweeping Order for RNs Against Barstow Hospital

California Nurses Association Press Release, 8/2/13

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Third major lawsuit filed by government against a Community Health Services hospital for illegal labor practices since April
 

A U.S. District Judge in Los Angeles Monday issued a federal injunction against Barstow Hospital ordering it to cease and desist its flagrant violations of the collective bargaining rights of its registered nurses. The injunction follows a restraining order issued against Barstow in June.
 
Judge Christina Snyder issued the order in response to a complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board following charges by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU) that Barstow has repeatedly and systematically broken federal law with its refusal to hold contract talks and other abridgements of the RNs’ legal and democratic rights.
“The temporary injunction did bring them to the table on July 10, the first bargaining session since January, but the Company refused to discuss anything of significance nothing of significance was discussed” said Mike Ziemer, a critical care RN at the facility, and a member of the RN elected CNA/NNU bargaining team. “We voted to join CNA/NNU so we could have collective voice in patient care decisions. We are losing our experienced nurses to area hospitals that already have CNA/NNU safe patient care standards in their contracts.”

Barstow, which is owned and operated by affiliated with the nation’s second largest for-profit hospital chain, Tennessee-based Community Health System, is subject to the order, technically known as a “Section 10(j) injunction.”  A 10 (j) would order the hospital to return to bargaining or face serious penalties that could range from fines to criminal contempt findings if it does not comply.
 
Nurses note that 10(j) court orders are rare and illustrate the severity of the extreme stance taken by CHS in its blatant attack on RN rights at its hospitals represented by CNA in California and at NNU affiliated hospitals in Ohio and West Virginia.
 
Under the court ruling, Barstow is directly ordered to cease and desist from:
 

  • Refusing to bargain in good faith with the union on terms and conditions of work;
  • Unilaterally changing unit nurses’ terms and conditions of employment;
  • Setting unreasonable demands as pre-conditions for bargaining,  and abruptly shortening or cancelling bargaining sessions.
  • Improperly conditioning bargaining on nurses giving up the use of forms they submit to management (Assignment Despite Objection or ADO) to document assignments they consider to be unsafe for patients.

In an unusual and pointed remedy, the court further ordered Barstow Hospital to “hold meetings” at the hospital with nurses in attendance.  At the meetings, the “Court’s order is to be read to the employees by a responsible management official.” The meetings are to take place within 10 days of the court order.

“That way at least one manager from Barstow will be certain to know the contents of what the court ordered,” said CNA co-president Zenei Cortez, RN.

Third lawsuit filed by the government against a Community Health Services Hospital for illegal labor practices since April.

Another CHS hospital in California, Fallbrook Hospital in Northern San Diego County, was slapped with a 10 (j) injunction in July.

“This pattern is well established: We see it in California, in Ohio and in West Virginia.  CHS hospitals disregard the law, trying to prevent nurses from advocating for patients or effectively carrying out their professional duties,” Cortez said.

At Affinity Medical Center in Massillon, Ohio, an NLRB hearing was held over five days in May concerning the hospital’s refusal to recognize the union as the representative of the nurses and for the illegal firing of a nurse activist. That hearing resulted in a ruling ordering reinstatement of the unlawfully terminated nurse, with reimbursement of all lost wages and benefits.

Region 8 of the National Labor Relations Board is also seeking an injunction on behalf of the nurses related to that case, making it the third federal lawsuit filed by the federal government against a CHS affiliate for illegal labor practices since April. Charges are also being pursued against two CHS West Virginia facilities, Bluefield Regional Medical Center in Bluefield and Greenbrier Valley Medical Center in Ronceverte.

In a deal valued at $3.6 billion, CHS announced this week its agreement to buy Health Management Associates.  If approved, the for-profit hospital system would total 206 hospitals in 29 states.  Despite considerable resources and revenues, CHS shows a pattern of cutbacks and bad faith in its bargaining with registered nurses, a pattern that undercuts quality patient care, say nurses.

CHS is also under fire in a nationwide investigation of fraudulent billing practices by its affiliated hospitals. Just two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a subpoena along with a request to interview high-ranking CHS executives in connection with an alleged scheme to increase revenues through a practice of unnecessary hospital admissions.

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