North Bay Business Journal: Union wins right to represent hospital workers

NewsJune 3, 2010

By Dan Verel

The National Labor Relations Board has sided with the National Union of Healthcare Workers in a long-standing labor dispute with Memorial Hospital.

In a 32-page decision, Administrative Law Judge William Schmidt, writing in Washington, D.C., for the San Francisco branch of the federal labor agency, ruled that the NUHW is “hereby certified as the exclusive collective bargaining representative” of the Santa Rosa hospital, overruling the medical center’s challenge to elections held in December.

In those elections, NUHW soundly defeated its rival and the union from which it broke away from, the Service Employees International Union — United Healthcare Workers West, and narrowly beat those who preferred no union, as the representative body for hospital employees. The final December tally was 283 votes for NUHW, 263 votes for no union and 13 votes for SEIU.

In a statement, the hospital said it was “disappointed” with the decision and that it would weigh its options over the next few days. It has until June 11 to decide whether it will appeal to the federal branch of the Labor Board in Washington, D.C.

“We will now carefully and thoughtfully evaluate the administrative law judge’s findings and recommendation that the election results stand, so that we can determine whether or not to ask the National Labor Relations Bard to reconsider the recommendation before making its final decision about the election certification,” Debra Miller, vice president of human resources for the hospital, said in a statement.

NUHW supporters expressed relief that the nearly six-year saga, which saw two unions quarrelling and a hospital administration that favored no union, is one step closer to being resolved.

“It’s great,” said Mito Gonzales, a clinical lab assistant at Memorial for the past 14 years. “We’ve been working for this for over six years now and we were up against a lot of odds. We finally overcame then and now we have our union.”

The two unions have battled for control at hospitals across California in a bitter labor divide. Should the judge’s ruling stand, approximately 700 people will become unionized with NUHW at Memorial, Ms.  Miller said.

Not all of those employees are happy to join the union.

“I’m afraid it’s going to mean an adversarial relationship between management and workers,” said Connie Bertlshofer, a coordinator in the health information services department who’s worked at the hospital for eight years.

“I do understand there are people here who feel they need a union. If that’s the case, they should be able to have a union but we shouldn’t have to be a part of it,” she said, adding that some workers are being “lumped together” unnecessarily.

Mr. Gonzales said that supporters of NUHW are aware of a possible challenge, but that yesterday’s decision should stand.

“We won our union and we know it,” he said in urging the hospital to let the ruling stand. “They could only hold out for so long and maybe delay it a little longer, but we have our union.”

The hospital has argued that, given the close results, a new election should take place between those in favor of NUHW and those who prefer no union. The hospital “remains steadfast in our belief that calling for the election to be set aside was the just thing to do for our employees.”


Source: North Bay Business Journal