Nurses in Missouri are currently waging a war to become recognized as a union. Their healtchare system, which holds about 35% of all healthcare in that city is fighting them tooth & nail - even stooping to illegal practices. It just got caught. The courts found it guilty of 140 violations against the nurses -including illegal coersion, intimidation, retaliation, and union-busting. This vindicates the nurses in that they are right in what they are doing to have a say in their employment & matters affecting their practice. The front page of the business section in the newspaper in Kansas City, Missouri was in booklet form, and the union, Nurses United's graphics covered the whole page. What a great visual.(a picture of a nurse with boxing gloves on)......
<< Seeds of nurses' unionizing efforts bear fruit
By RANDOLPH HEASTER - The Kansas City Star
Teresa Barnett remembers the first time nurses from Health Midwest met in
her Kansas City living room to discuss how they could improve their work
Frustrated by staffing shortages and cutbacks they believed were affecting
patient care, about 10 nurses from various Health Midwest entities gathered
in June 1999 and began contemplating a union.
"We didn't even want to use the word `union' because many of us thought it
had a bad connotation," said Barnett, a registered nurse at Menorah Medical
Center in Overland Park. "But we really believed we could make a difference
by having a legal voice in the workplace, and unionizing was the way to do
It's been more than two years since the seeds of the ambitious organizing
drive were planted. Amid setbacks and gains, Nurses United for Improved
Patient Care achieved a crucial victory two weeks ago.
An administrative law judge of the National Labor Relations Board's regional
office in Overland Park agreed that Health Midwest violated federal labor
laws during organizing activity at three hospitals and a home health agency.
The ruling, coming after a hearing last summer, covered about 130 charges of
unfair labor practices made by the NLRB.
Among the violations Judge George Aleman found:
Health Midwest and its facilities were too broad in defining where nurses
cannot distribute union literature and discuss the union with peers. Health
Midwest management had prohibited such activity in cafeterias and break
rooms and stopped pamphlets from being placed in employee mailboxes.
Mid-level managers who asked certain nurses about their feelings about the
union acted in a coercive and intimidating manner. Some managers also told
nurses that jobs and insurance contracts would be lost, facilities would be
closed and job flexibility would be eliminated if the union won.
Some Health Midwest employees were given disciplinary write-ups because of
their union activities.
Research Medical Center tried to form a management-dominated labor
organization to thwart Nurses United's campaign.
An April 2000 memo sent by a Health Midwest senior vice president to all
employees was an attempt to hinder an NLRB investigation into the election
results of a Health Midwest agency where the union lost.
Health Midwest has until Aug. 22 to appeal any of the findings to the NLRB
in Washington. A spokesman said the company would not comment on specific
incidents detailed in the ruling until a decision was made on whether to
appeal any of them.
When the NLRB ruling was issued, Health Midwest said it had tried to comply
with regulations and protect the rights of employees, the employer and the
union during the organizing campaign. The company consistently said it
believed direct communication with its employees without a third party was
the best way to go.
Health Midwest controls about 35 percent of the Kansas City area's
health-care market. Its hospitals include Research Medical Center, Baptist
Medical Center, Trinity Lutheran Hospital, Independence Regional Health
Center, Menorah Medical Center and Overland Park Regional Medical Center.
Nurses United is affiliated with the Federation of Nurses and Healthcare
Professionals, the health-care division of the American Federation of
Teachers. The federation represents about 60,000 nurses and other
health-care professionals across the country.
In the past two years, nurses have voted in favor of union representation at
the three Health Midwest hospitals: Lee's Summit Hospital, Menorah and most
recently, Medical Center of Independence. Although Nurses United lost a
March 2000 election at Visiting Nurses Association/Visiting Nurse Services,
a Health Midwest home health agency, Aleman ruled that another election must
be held because of management's actions before the election.
Although the outcome of the latest NLRB ruling is not final, it was
vindication for many nurses who had participated in the organizing campaign.
"It's a genuine victory for all the nurses," Barnett said. "For the nurses
who don't really understand what the union is about, this is a way for us to
show that we have a right to do what we're doing. For some nurses, this
ruling will be important in making a decision about whether they want the
The ruling was not a surprise for Rhoda Vanderhart, a registered nurse and
one of the union's negotiators at Menorah.
"We have found that throughout the organizing drive and at the negotiating
table, Health Midwest is pretty flagrant in their violations," Vanderhart
said. "They have had so much power for so long, they act like they don't
need to comply with the law."
Vanderhart said it was her impression that many of Health Midwest's senior
and mid-level managers had little expertise in union matters.
"Nurses have been organizing for years on the coasts, but it's still pretty
new in the Midwest," she said. "I think that's been a detriment and a big
problem for Health Midwest to understand what's going on here."
Some of the most contentious incidents described in the judge's ruling and
the transcripts of last summer's hearing occurred during the unsuccessful
organizing drive at the Visiting Nurse Association/Visiting Nurse Services.
Rich Roberson, chief executive officer of VNA/VNS, was questioned at last
summer's hearing about a Jan. 19, 2000, incident in which a group of nurses
came to his office and requested that Nurses United be recognized as their
"I remember the word `recognition,' but I couldn't tell you any more today
the exact words or anything close to the exact words that were said at the
time," Roberson told the NLRB's general counsel. "It was so disruptive and
so against everything that I had seen our nurses do, to barge into my office
unannounced, my secretary almost in tears...so I really can't tell you what
much was said."
Deanna Jones, a VNA nurse who read the statement seeking union recognition
in Roberson's office, received a disciplinary write-up a week later. It was
for work-related messages she had sent to co-workers and managers the
The NLRB judge ruled that Jones' write-up violated labor laws because it was
in retaliation for her union activity. The judge ordered another election at
"Hopefully this decision will help to alleviate fears that nurses have had
about showing support for our union," said Kathleen Jennings, also a
registered nurse at the agency. "This decision is evidence that the law
supports our right to organize and illegal interference on the part of
Health Midwest will not be tolerated."
Despite the favorable NLRB ruling, Nurses United probably will face
obstacles at other facilities of Health Midwest -- a company facing mounting
losses -- and at the bargaining table of union sites.
Richard W. Brown, Health Midwest's chief executive, painted a grim financial
future in a July 1 letter to employees.
The prospect of "decreased payments, increased expenses and demand,
projected into the future, suggests that we will lose money from operations
in each of the next four years," wrote Brown, projecting a fiscal 2002
operating loss of $40 million, rising to $75 million by 2004. "No
organization can sustain that kind of loss even over the short term."
Brown said Health Midwest had hired Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, a management
consulting firm, to analyze and streamline the company's entire operation.
The goal of Project Delta is find new revenues and cut costs while
maintaining high-quality care.
Brown wrote that Nurses United's negotiators had asked for a 24 percent
increase in nurses' wages at Lee's Summit Hospital, the first facility to
unionize. That increase alone would cost $80 million if applied across
Health Midwest's system, Brown said.
"This suggests an appalling lack of understanding of our financial
circumstances," Brown wrote.
Vanderhart, who is on the Menorah negotiating committee, said her group also
was seeking a 24 percent wage increase. The union, she said, called the
opening bid a "recruitment and retention proposal" subject to compromise.
Since then, Vanderhart said Menorah had countered with a wage increase the
same as other nurses in Health Midwest's system, which she described as
nominal, twice-yearly raises that include a cost-of-living adjustment.
Vanderhart said Health Midwest's lower pay structure drove young, newly
hired nurses to other health systems after four or five years.
"They get their training here, and they're gone," she said. "That's what
costs Health Midwest money. If you improve wages, staffing and benefits,
you'll be able to keep the competent people that you hire."
At a recent meeting of area labor and media officials, an organizer
expressed frustration at the pace of the bargaining, particularly at Lee's
Summit Hospital, where nurses unionized in April 2000.
"Negotiations have gone on for over a year, and we have not made significant
gains," said Gary Stevenson, Nurses United's executive director. "Contract
talks are critical right now."
Health Midwest executives say bargaining has been slowed by the size of the
nurses' negotiating committee.
Don Flora, president of Flora & Associates, a health-care consulting firm,
said Health Midwest's Project Delta analysis will have to consider the
impact of the nurses' organizing drive.
"Health Midwest has a lot of bricks-and-mortar issues, but the majority of
the costs are in personnel-related matters," Flora said. "To the extent that
they have labor issues, that will further complicate how they make business
decisions on how the system operates in the future."
And at least up to now, Health Midwest appears not to have changed how it
deals with the nurses' union campaign. Another hearing is scheduled for
today at the NLRB office in Overland Park.
The NLRB general counsel is charging Health Midwest with additional
violations at Lee's Summit Hospital and Medical Center of Independence. The
complaint says that last October at Lee's Summit, Health Midwest withheld a
cost-of-living raise that all company nurses received. That was a violation
because Health Midwest did not bargain with the union on the matter,
according to the complaint.
The complaint charges that management at Medical Center of Independence
illegally held a series of meetings in May in which a supervisor warned of
reprisals if the nurses voted for union representation. Nurses there voted
in early July in favor of Nurses United.
On each matter, Health Midwest has denied it violated federal labor laws.
In the current environment, nurses such as Menorah's Barnett are not
treating Aleman's 89-page decision as the end of the war.
"It's a great victory, but we're keeping our eyes on the prize," she said.
"We have to keep working until we all have a voice for our patients and