Razor Thin Union Election at St. Charles Still in Question
St. Charles ratifies nurses contract with ONA in Redmond while SEIU alleges anti-union intimidation in Bend
January 12, 2011 – Hospital executives at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend and Redmond have had a tough go lately with the unions.
Negotiations over pay and benefits for 125 nurses in Redmond represented by the Oregon Nurses Association required a federal mediator. Nurses are expected to ratify that contract on Jan. 20.
Meanwhile a union election in Bend on January 5 among 600 hospital workers to join the Services Employees International Union (SEIU) is still clouded in controversy.
The results of the election were 255 in favor, 251 against, with an additional 34 challenged ballots that could determine the outcome. The eligibility of those workers will be decided in negotiations later this month.
Workers include more than 70 designations from food service and housekeeping to certified nursing assistants and phlebotomists.
Complicating matters, SEIU claims the hospital instituted a top-down intimidation campaign that may have broken the law, according to Felisa Hagins, spokeswoman for SEIU Local 503.
Chief among its complaints are that hospital administrators encouraged workers to vote against the union, told them not to discuss the union during work hours and then held open forums at the hospital that were anti-union.
“This election has shown us that a majority of workers, despite intimidation by the hospital, have decided to form a union,” Hagins said.“Workers atSt. Charles have been clear they’ve seen changes in the hospital over past eight years where they don’t have a voice.”
Katy Vitcovich, senior vice president of human resources, defended the hospital.
“We did have open forums,” Vitcovich said. “We did not restrict any of their opinions other than during work time and in patient care areas. We only asked that they participate in discussion of the union or the organizing effort on their lunch breaks or before or after work.”
Hospital workers reported to the Bend Bulletin that the atmosphere throughout the hospital in recent weeks has been tense.
“This has really driven a wedge between folks at the hospital,” Brad Slate, who coordinates audio/visual services, told the Bulletin. “Folks are having difficulty getting along with each other.”
Like many hospitals in Oregon, St. Charles has reduced costs over the past several years to adapt to increased uncompensated care and lower patient volumes. Lowering costs, therefore, has involved some layoffs, a little outsourcing and a 5 percent pay reduction in 2009 that was later reinstated.
Despite those setbacks, Vitcovitch said the hospital pays comparable salaries to similar positions and strives to provide outlets for worker feedback.
“The economy has just been so tough on so many families in central Oregon that people may be looking for some kind of guarantee or safety net that they believe will insure them continued employment, better pay and benefits,” Vitcovich.
That’s why, she said, the executive management team, “just wanted to make sure we got the word out on what a union could do and could not do for you. And if they decided they did want to be represented once they knew the facts, we would certainly sit down with SEIU and negotiate a contract.”
Vitcovich confirmed the hospital held three days of open forums with at least three set times per day where employees could come during a break and speak with a hospital executive including Jay Henry, St. Charles Bend CEO. She said there were frequent back-and-forth discussions and that management would express their opinion when asked.
“We don’t feel there is a need for a third party to be brought in and charge our caregivers union dues to act as a third party and speak to us about these conditions,” Vitcovich said.
SEIU’s Hagins said the union is still investigating the matter.
Jan 13 2011