Federal Court Orders Fallbrook Hospital to Return to Talks With Nurses, Rare Court Injunction Issued
Rare Court Injunction Seen as Major Sanction for San Diego-Area Hospital
Fallbrook Also Directed to Stop Interfering with RNs’ Legal Rights
In a rare legal sanction, a U.S. District Judge in San Diego has issued a federal injunction against Fallbrook Hospital in northern San Diego County, ordering the hospital to immediately return to contract negotiations with its registered nurses, and end its abridgement of the RNs’ legally protected rights.
Judge Gonzalo Curiel issued the injunction late Tuesday. It is technically known as a “Section 10(j)” injunction intended to force Fallbrook to comply with federal labor law or face serious penalties that could range from fines to criminal contempt findings if it does not comply.
Fallbrook is one of five hospitals in California, Ohio, and West Virginia that are part of one of the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chains, Tennessee-based Community Health Systems where affiliates of National Nurses United are pursuing federal action for significant violations of RN rights.
The Fallbrook injunction was ordered at the request of the National Labor Relations Board following a scathing decision last month by an NLRB administrative law judge, Eleanor Laws, resulting from a hearing on charges initially brought by the California Nurses Association/NNU. Laws, in exceptionally tough language, said that Fallbrook engaged in “avoidance tactics” to prevent contract talks and characterized the hospital’s behavior as “obstinate and pugnacious.”
Judge Curiel’s ruling steps up the pressure on the hospital, specifically ordering Fallbrook to:
- Meet and bargain with the RNs and their elected representative, CNA, in good faith over terms and conditions of employment.
- Bargain with the union over the termination of two RNs who CNA says were fired for patient advocacy and activity in support of the union and their nurse colleagues,
- Post notices in the hospital of the court’s order, provide access to NLRB personnel to monitor observance of the order, and report back to the court and the NLRB a sworn affidavit documenting compliance.
The court order also enjoins the hospital from some of its most egregious behaviors. These include stalling tactics the hospital has employed to avoid negotiations such as citing the RNs’ continued use of forms it provides to notify management about unsafe assignments as a pretext to avoid negotiations. The court also enjoined Fallbrook from interfering with the nurses’ federally protected labor rights.
“This ruling should send a clear signal that CHS needs to end its lawbreaking practices at once,”
said CNA/NNU Co-president Cokie Giles, RN.
Sanctions at other CHS hospitals represented by NNU affiliates are also pending.
At Barstow Hospital in Barstow, CA, a separate hearing over similar charges is expected to be held later this month. The Board has already gone to federal court in Los Angeles asking for a “Section 10(j)” injunction to also force Barstow Hospital to comply with federal labor law.
At Affinity Medical Center in Massillon, Oh., an NLRB hearing was held over five days in May over charges brought by NNU affiliate National Nurses Organizing Committee-Ohio over the hospital’s refusal to recognize the union as the representative of the nurses, who voted in a secret ballot election for NNOC-Ohio as their union, and for the illegal firing of a nurse activist. A decision by an NLRB administrative law judge is pending.
Charges are also being pursued against two CHS West Virginia facilities, Bluefield Regional Medical Center in Bluefield and Greenbrier Valley Medical Center in Ronceverte.