Empire Report: Memorial Hospital faces allegations as Workers Face Union Vote

NewsDecember 8, 2009

Only days before Memorial Hospital’s workers vote on unionization, the hospital’s administration is facing allegations that it’s dishonoring and disrupting the workers’ right to unionize. Is the hospital dishonoring the respectful workplace principles its local diocese endorsed only two years ago?

Memorial Hospital Faces Allegations as Workers Face Union Vote

Is Memorial Hospital dishonoring its workers?

Over the 60 years since opening its doors on New Year’s Day 1950, Memorial Hospital has developed into a full-service, not-for-profit system of inpatient, outpatient, and community outreach services for the residents of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County and California’s North Coast communities.  Its more than 2,600 employees provide care for roughly one-half of Sonoma County’s available hospital beds. 

Two years ago Bishop Walsh and the Diocese of Santa Rosa built upon this local tradition by committing to “A Just and Fair Workplace: Principles and guidelines for Catholic Healthcare, a just labor document Monsignor John Brenkle praised because its principles “reflect more completely the social teachings of our faith community than do the norms of the [National Labor Relations Board].” 

Earlier this year the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops built upon this commitment when it produced “Respecting the Just Rights of Workers,” which recommends that unions and employers agree, in writing, on the specific ways they will honor the following principles: 

  • Demonstrate respect for each other’s organization and mission,
  • Provide workers with equal access to information from both sides,
  • Adhere to standards for truthfulness and balance in their communications,
  • Create a pressure-free environment,
  • Allow workers to vote through a fair and expeditious process,
  • Honor employees’ decision regardless of the outcome, and
  • Create a system for enforcing these principles during the course of an organizing drive.   

Is Memorial Violating it own Principles

Only, despite this leadership from the local and national Catholic communities, and eight months after a majority of Memorial Hospital workers filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking union representation with the National Union of Healthcare Workers, the hospital’s administration still has not agreed to honor any principles for the workers’ historic December 17th and 18th vote on unionization. 

Within this vacuum Memorial employees are alleging that administration is violating a number of these principles, including providing unequal access to information, distributing biased information about unionization, and pressuring workers by 1) discussing unionization during one-on-one, “captive audience” meetings and 2) reprimanding workers who were discussing unionization during their breaks: 

On Wednesday, December 2nd, workers discussed these allegations with local leaders from both religious and secular communities, who then attempted to attend a hospital administration information meeting about the upcoming vote.  While the meeting’s presenters did not distribute any handouts — limiting its information to Powerpoint slides — attendies charged that the meeting presented a misleadingly alarming account of unionization and its consequences.

Workers Meet with Community Leaders

When Catholic Scholars for Workers’ Justice representative Fr. Ray Decker was denied access to the administration’s meeting, he and Santa Rosa Junior College instructor Marty Bennett attempted to bring their concerns and questions to the hospital’s President and C.E.O., Kevin Klockenga: 

The next day Catholic Scholars for Workers’ Justice Chairperson, Fr. Joseph Fahey, sent an open letter to Mr. Klockenga expressing deep alarm at “reports that SJHS has reverted to an earlier form of behavior and is actively seeking to bust the union movement at Santa Rosa,” alerting him that, “It is a violation of Catholic Social Teaching on workers’ rights for an employer to demonstrate anti-union sentiments,” and urging the hospital’s administration “to meet at the earliest possible moment with NUHW to discuss ground rules.” 


In the face of these concerns, Memorial employees and their supporters met last Saturday in Santa Rosa’s Odd Fellows Hall to discuss their concerns and the upcoming election. 


Sal Rosselli, Interim President of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, spoke with the packed hall.  Looking past the allegations facing Memorial Hospital’s administration, he reminded workers, 

You have the support of the community as you see here today.  You have the support of hundreds and hundreds of Kaiser and S.H.W. and homecare members and nursing home members and Sutter members throughout California.

Memorial Hospital employees will vote on December 17th and December 18th to determine if they will unionize.

Special note: Attempts were made — in person, through email, and over the phone — to interview Mr. Kevin Klockenga for this article.  The email was not returned, the phone call abruptly ended when the other person hung up, and Mr. Klockenga’s assistant refused my contact information and called security when I approached in person.

Michael Aparicio teaches philosophy at Santa Rosa Junior College.  He’s a regular contributor to Empire Report. “Rojo Reports” is our collection of his news articles.  ”The Gadfly” is our collection of his news commentaries. Taken together, they are Michael’s attempt to provide a balance of newsworthy reporting and thought-provoking questioning.

Source: Empire Report