Fed. Judge Orders CHS Ohio Hospital to Bargain With RNs & End Illegal Retaliation for Union Activity
Rare Third Court Order in a Year Against Major Hospital Chain
A U.S. District Court Judge has delivered a sweeping cease and desist injunction requiring Affinity Medical Center of Massillon, Oh to end its lawless behavior in refusing to bargain with its registered nurses and engaging in repeated illegal discipline and harassment of its RNs.
The ruling, issued January 22 by U.S. District Court Judge John Adams of the Northern Ohio District, is the third injunction within a year against affiliates of Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, now the nation’s largest hospital chain, for rampant violations of federal labor law.
Similar injunctions were issued in 2013 against CHS hospitals in California. Three such injunctions against one corporate employer in just a few months is almost unprecedented, said National Nurses United, the nation’s largest RN organization, whose affiliates represent RNs at Affinity as well as Barstow Community Hospital and Fallbrook Hospital in Southern California.
Key components of Judge Adams’ order include a requirement that Affinity immediately:
- Cease and desist its illegal refusal to recognize and bargain with the RNs’ democratically elected union representative, National Nurses Organizing Committee-Ohio.
- Offer full reinstatement within five days to Affinity RN Ann Wayt who was illegally fired for union activity. Affinity then compounded the harassment by seeking to have the Ohio Board of Nursing rescind her nursing license. Affinity is also ordered to retract the report it made to the Ohio Board.
- End all discipline and harassment of RNs, including reporting them to the Board of Nursing for union “activity, sympathies or support.”
- Cease threats of physical harm to RNs who submit forms to management objecting to unsafe patient care assignments and urging improvements for patient safety.
- Cease telling RNs that the hospital “would enjoy disciplining known union supporters,” and “imposing more onerous working conditions” on union supporters.
- top barring access to the hospital to an NNOC-Ohio representative to meet with and assist RNs.
“What a tremendous victory for Affinity RNs who, in the face of disgraceful harassment and intimidation, have courageously stood together to demand this employer respect their democratic rights as they seek to advocate for their patients and improve standards for themselves,” said NNU Co-president Deborah Burger, RN.
“This decision is a stinging indictment for a lawless corporate giant, CHS, which has repeatedly trampled on their rights of the nurses who care for its patients,” said Burger. “The wanton disregard of the law by CHS, and its affiliates like Affinity, put the nurses, the patients, and the communities where CHS is often the only local hospital, in danger. It is time for this rogue behavior to cease.”
Affinity RNs celebrated the injunction Friday, and offered praise for Wayt.
“Finally, a step in the right direction, justice for Ann and an opportunity to start contract talks. The federal law has spoken,” said Tamara Wiseman, a Medical Surgical/Telemetry RN.
“I will be so happy to have Ann back at the hospital. She is so respected at the hospital as a fabulous nurse and role model for so many at Affinity,” said mental health RN Michelle Canfora.
“CHS may think they are above the law, but this order sends a clear message. We look forward to having our sister Ann back and moving forward to contract negotiations that will improve patient care conditions at Affinity,” said Bob McKinney, Medical Surgical/Telemetry RN.
“Thank you Ann for staying strong! You have given us courage. We are so pleased to see justice prevail for Ann and all Affinity RNs,” said Intensive Care Unit RN Sarah Falanga ICU.
Judge Adams’ decision follows a similar finding last July by a National Labor Relations Board Administrative Law Judge Arthur Amchan. If Affinity and CHS fail to comply, company officials could face contempt of court sanctions ranging from substantial fines to jail time.
In the July ruling, Amchan dismissed pretexts raised by Affinity attorneys to justify their refusal to recognize and negotiate with the RNs, calling one position a “red herring,” noting another was “simply irrelevant to this case,” and admonished the hospital attorneys for “declining my suggestion that it make an offer of proof” on one of their defenses.
Judge Adams found that the NLRB had properly certified NNOC-Ohio as the bargaining representative of Affinity RNs who voted in August 2012 to join the union, and dismissed claims by Affinity that complying with federal law would adversely “impact the services or residents of the hospital.”
On Wayt, Judge Adams rejected Affinity’s trumped up justifications for her illegal termination. He found Affinity’s actions to be “inconsistent with disciplinary actions taken against other persons with similar alleged violations and disproportionate to the offense level.”
NNOC-Ohio on Friday said it will immediately press Affinity to comply with the order, reinstate Wayt, and begin negotiations with the RNs and their elected representatives for a first collective bargaining agreement.