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Latest News - April 2011

April 20, 2011
Fight between union, Kitsap Mental Health goes before judge
Source: Kitsap Sun
By: Rachel Pritchett

SEATTLE — Kitsap Mental Health Services continued to defend its treatment of a union representing its workers Wednesday at a National Labor Relations Board hearing.

Last year, the regional office of the NLRB dismissed allegations of unfair labor practices brought by Service Employees International Union Healthcare 1199NW.

The union appealed to the federal NLRB, which ordered that some of the allegations that had been dismissed should be heard by an administrative law judge.

In a hearing that began Wednesday and is expected to wrap up around the end of the week, the judge heard arguments from both sides over the remaining allegations.

The allegations state that KMHS unduly withdrew recognition of the union in 2009.

They also state that KMHS undermined the union by directly offering employees $1,000 bonuses instead of running the offer through the union.

In addition, the allegations state the KMHS did not supply all the data SEIU 1199 requested that would have allowed it to evaluate proposals at the bargaining table.

Discussion of the allegations Wednesday gave glimpses of some very bad blood between KMHS and its union that seemed to reach a breaking point in 2009.

KMHS leaders became "increasingly uncooperative" in contract talks that year, according to attorney Paul Drachler, representing the union. It "did a complete about-face," pleading poverty at the bargaining table only to turn around and deliver bonuses. SEIU negotiator Goeff Bate described an agency becoming increasing hostile at his visits.

Attorney Diane Taylor, representing KMHS, said the union was far too aggressive and unnecessarily pitted workers against management. It was more interested in building itself up than ub representing KMHS employees, she said.

"Support was gradually eroding" for the union among employees, Taylor said.

She spoke of an employee so harassed and intimidated by phone calls from the union that she was forced to go to KMHS Human Resources Director Laura Holloway and ask her to stop them.

The trouble began in March 2009, when the SEIU's contract covering KMHS's 200 workers was about to expire. Talks that started then and continued for months were not going well.

A few of the issues involved included allowing workers to opt out of the union and doing away with annual pay increases, which KMHS wanted. Others involved extending the old contract until the legislative session ended so the union would have a better idea of how much state money KMHS would receive in its budget, according to Bate.

Talks continued to go south, and in December 2009 a majority of KMHS workers signed a petition calling for management to withdraw recognition of the union.

Management, led by Executive Director Joe Roszak, immediately withdrew recognition. Within a short period of time, employees received $1,000 bonuses. Employee Tina D'Astoli previously said management did not use the bonuses to encourage employees to sign the petition.

In 2010, the union filed charges with the NLRB.

Almost a year and a half later, there is no resolution.

Whether the SEUI still represents workers at KMHS depends on who is asked. Bate said yes on Tuesday. Joe Marra, another attorney representing KMHS, said union representation ended when a majority of employees signed the petition not to recognize the union.

Holloway was the only KMHS employee attending this week's hearing at the Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle. It will take weeks and possibly months for the NLRB to issue its decision.



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