East Bay Business Times (Free Registraion required)
Susan L. Thomas
A dispute between the San Ramon Regional Medical Center and nurses over their efforts to unionize has dragged on since October. And long-vacant positions at the National Labor Relations Board could mean more months of the same.
The two sides are wrangling over the nurses' fall vote to join the California Nurses Association. The hospital immediately appealed the 119-93 vote, citing 10 objections to the election, according to the NLRB.
The local NLRB district held a hearing on the matter Dec. 6, and a judge agreed to hear more evidence on eight of the complaints, which included allegations that the CNA promised or provided benefits or valuable gifts to supporters, that it engaged in electioneering near the polling place and that union supporters' conduct interfered with the election.
The judge, however, overruled objections by the hospital that the CNA or its representatives harassed or intimidated employees. The judge also dismissed a separate allegation that, through unspecified actions, the union interfered with the election, either affecting the result or making a fair vote impossible. Briefs from both sides were due Dec. 20.
Once the hearing judge takes the evidence into account and issues his recommendations, it could take months or even a year before an outcome is certain because the ruling could be appealed, said Bruce Friend, assistant regional director for the NLRB's Oakland region. Complicating the matter, Friend said, is that the NLRB has been without commissioners until recently and likely will be trudging through a backlog of cases.
On Nov. 15, the Senate finally confirmed five nominees to the NLRB, marking the first time the board has been at full strength since August 2000.
Kim Burch, director of business development at San Ramon Regional Medical Center, said the hospital would not comment on its objections to the election other than to say that they involved "events surrounding the election." She said hospital officials do not know what they will do once the hearing judge issues a recommendation. Burch added that the vote was close, and that a sizable number of nurses do not want the union. "We'd like to see another election," Burch said.
In the meantime, the CNA has won one victory against the hospital. It raised objections with the NLRB that the hospital had engaged in union-busting activities. The NLRB looked into the allegations and issued a complaint against the hospital on Nov. 25.
Rony Clements, a regional attorney with the NLRB's Oakland district, said that complaint means that it found enough evidence to support a hearing, which an NLRB administrative law judge will preside over on March 25. A judge would then take briefs and make a ruling, which could be appealed to the full board. The sides could settle at any time.
Some of the complaints involved the firing of a nurse for posting a union flier during the organizing period. The hospital reinstated the nurse soon afterward. Also, the NLRB noted that there was evidence that a manager went to spy on an off-site union meeting, that hospital officials questioned nurses about union activity and that nurses were told they could not use their mailboxes for union literature. The hospital would not comment on the complaints.
For its part, the CNA attacked San Ramon's actions as delaying tactics and called for contract negotiations to begin.
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