St. Mary-Corwin Agrees to Settle with National Labor Board and Nurses Union to Avoid Trial
RNs Call for Hospital to Respect Their Rights to Organize for Voice in Patient Care & Agree to Fair Election
Facing a federal trial, St. Mary Corwin Medical Center, owned by Catholic Health Initiatives, chose instead to a settlement agreement with the national agency that oversees labor relations, to cease and desist unlawful harassment and coercion of its registered nurses who favor union representation.
The settlement agreement follows a series of charges brought by the RNs and National Nurses Organizing Committee-Colorado/NNU that the hospital has been violating the legal rights of the St. Mary-Corwin nurses to form a union.
The National Labor Relations Board indicated it was prepared to prosecute the hospital chain for 14 separate allegations where RN rights were violated. The alleged violations included forbidding nurses from talking about the union at work, interrogating nurses about their conversations with their coworkers, surveillance of pro-union nurses, and the illegal prohibition of wearing buttons or other union insignia while working.
“It’s now time for the hospital to respect the rights of its registered nurses and negotiate a fair election agreement supported by the Catholic church,” said Gail Martinez, a critical care nurse at the facility. “SMC nurses are ready to move forward in our campaign to improve patient care, safety, and working conditions through a professional nurse organization.”
SMC/CHI has agreed to post an official government-approved Notice to Employees promising not to interfere with the RN organizing campaign, affirming the nurses’ right to free speech without interference or coercion. NNOC-Colorado, an affiliate of National Nurses United, the country’s largest RN union and professional organization, today said they will carefully monitor compliance by the Pueblo, Colo. hospital.
Despite the settlement, and given the past history of the employer, SMC RNs and NNOC-Colorado have been pushing for a stronger agreement that will guarantee a free and fair election.
In July 2010, 80 percent of SMC RNs at SMC petitioned the hospital in support of a fair election agreement, which was denied with a promise that management would obey the National Labor Relations Act because the hospital stated it provided adequate protections. The hospital repeatedly broke that pledge.
Because federal law doesn’t adequately protect employee rights, many organizing campaigns are conducted according to fairer ground rules that the union and employer negotiate between themselves.
Several hospital chains including Catholic Healthcare West, Tenet Healthcare, and Hospital Corporation of America have agreed to fair election procedure agreements, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recommends that Catholic hospitals give them a serious consideration. In 2009, the USCCB published a set of guidelines intended to facilitate such negotiations between Catholic hospitals and unions, entitled “Respecting the Just Rights of Workers: Guidance and Options for Catholic Health Care and Unions.”
While fair election agreements are all different, they commonly include agreement by the employer to restrict its campaign statements and commitment by the employer to give access rights to the union. Other provisions may include agreement by the parties to refrain from disparagement and willingness by them to resolve disputes through an informal, expedited process.
A fair election agreement not only better protects employees from employer coercion and affords employees access to more information from the union, it also promotes a more cooperative work environment during the campaign and after.
St. Mary-Corwin is a part of the second-largest Catholic hospital chain in the U.S., and managed by the Denver-based Centura Health Corporation.