NUHW workers win legal battle against Queen of the Valley

NewsJuly 26, 2018

In another victory for Queen of the Valley workers, the Napa hospital must immediately resume contract bargaining even as it continues trying to overturn their 2016 vote to unionize.

In a 23-page ruling issued July 16, U.S. Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder wrote that “The record here shows Queen of the Valley Medical Center on several occasions engaged in retaliatory and hostile acts against union supporters.” Click here for the Napa Valley Register’s report.

The ruling by a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel reinstates an injunction issued last November by U.S. District Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. The injunction orders Queen to:

  1. Resume good faith bargaining.
  2. Reverse retaliatory actions taken against caregivers.
  3. Abide by union requests to rescind unilateral actions taken following the union’s formation.
  4. Convene meetings where caregivers are read a judicial order explaining how the hospital violated their workplace rights.

“Queen CEO Larry Coomes needs to do some soul-searching,” said Ray Herrera, a radiologic technologist at the hospital. “He’s wasted so many patient care dollars on corporate lawyers to fight a losing battle against caregivers who just want to negotiate a fair contract that improves their lives and the lives of patients they serve.”

Unless Queen successfully appeals to the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court, the injunction will remain in effect until the National Labor Relations Board rules on the hospital’s separate appeal of a March, 2018 ruling. That ruling by Administrative Law Judge Sharon Levinson Steckler found that Queen had illegally withdrawn recognition of the union. The labor board is expected to take about a year to rule on Queen’s appeal in that case.

“It’s time for Queen to do the right thing and end this costly and fruitless legal fight,” said Cheryl Conant, a sonographer. “There’s no reason why we can’t quickly settle a fair contact that improves conditions at our hospital so that we can start retaining good caregivers.”

The hospital initially negotiated and even reached agreements with NUHW, but it abruptly withdrew recognition in March 2017. Queen CEO Larry Coomes has claimed that the labor board somehow disenfranchised workers by conducting the election through the mail, even though turnout was 90 percent, and workers elected to join NUHW by a 20-point margin. Coomes had only offered to bargain if the hospital could turn its back on any agreements should it later prevail in court. With the injunction now back into effect, the hospital must now negotiate with workers without any conditions.

“It’s insulting for Larry Coomes to insist that he’s trying to protect our rights when he’s clearly trying to deny our right to form a union and bargain a contract to make Queen a better hospital,” said Gabbi Caro, a patient access representative. “If he wants to make sure the voices are caregivers are heard, he shouldn’t make us have to get two different courts to order him to bargain with us no strings attached. Instead, hospital management continued to break the law.”

Injunctions are extremely rare in these cases, but the Ninth Circuit panel found that there was “a continuing threat of harm to the union’s collective bargaining rights,” from Queen refusing to bargain in good faith.

“It is a well-settled principle of labor relations law that an employer cannot start unconditional bargaining with a union and then quit when negotiations do not go well,” Judge Schroeder wrote. “In this case, a Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board believed the employer did just that.”

Schroeder also wrote that the Regional Director was likely to be successful claiming discrimination by Queen against Miguel Arroyo, a hospital janitor. After Arroyo appeared in a pro-union photo, his boss changed his schedule “to create transportation issues for his family and cause Arroyo to receive less pay on the different shift.” The injunction requires that Queen restore Arroyo to his former shift.