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Latest News - June 2011

June 24, 2011
Finally, Nurses Are Set to Vote on Unionizing
Source: The New York Times
By: James Warren

It’s easier to be elected president than to win a union representation election these days.
I’m looking at a 2004 photo of a little-known state senator, Barack Obama, addressing a rally at a West Side Chicago church on behalf of an organizing campaign at Resurrection Health Care, a nonprofit, church-run group of hospitals.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is still at it and will finally get a representation election next Wednesday and Thursday among about 270 registered nurses at one of the group’s locations, Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center.

It’s a drawn-out, nearly decade-long tussle fit for the times. The union has met resistance and filed 50 complaints about unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board. The company voluntarily settled 18 of the 50 complaints brought against its various properties before any federal hearing.
No such Chicago community hospital has been unionized, and the national backdrop is clear: distinctly anti-union sentiment; laws that make organizing tougher and employer penalties for breaking those laws modest; a frequent refusal of employers to bargain a contract even after a union wins an election; self-inflicted wounds by a few corrupt unions; citizen ignorance about the positive history of organized labor; and the virtual disappearance of labor reporting in mainstream journalism.
And of course there’s the curiosity of this employer’s being a Roman Catholic nonprofit and relying on a prominent Chicago management law firm, Seyfarth Shaw, which often drives unions batty. The church, especially at headquarters in Italy, has often stoutly defended worker rights.
The targeted group, registered nurses, earn $25 to $35 an hour, or annual pay in the $50,000 to $70,000 range. They’re far from, say, the exploited undocumented workers one finds in apparel sweatshops. But they’re in an industry fixated on cost-cutting, bringing ample stresses as patient-to-staff ratios rise.
“Patient loads are heavier. There’s less time to help teach new nurses and more time spent on things like our monitoring new medication drips,” said Rachelle Vardon, a nurse at Our Lady of the Resurrection.

Ms. Vardon, 33, is the child of Filipino immigrants. She has worked at Resurrection for eight years, loves her job and is bothered by what she perceives as pressure from some doctors who contend the hospital may have to close if the union wins.

Maggie Nielsen, 52, an emergency-room nurse who is pro-union, also feels such pressure. “Some staff are terrified and run away when they see me,” she said. Ms. Nielsen, too, is proud of her work _“We’re still giving the best patient care in a superior emergency room” — but is also bothered by an increased workload and the threats to cut staffing if the union wins.

The women spoke at the labor federation’s office. The National Labor Relations Board asserts that the hospital illegally forbade nurses to talk about unionization in break rooms or the cafeteria when off the clock and barred union literature on bulletin boards in break rooms. A hearing is set for Aug. 3.
Any illegal behavior is denied by Brian Crawford, the company’s vice president for public affairs. The accusations include pressure by doctors or any hospital involvement in anti-union T-shirts briefly worn by some employees.

Support for union representation isn’t completely along hospital party lines. Pre-election “yes” and “no” buttons are being worn by doctors and nurses.
“We are encouraging all employees to vote their conscience,” Mr. Crawford said.
Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, voiced frustration with Resurrection in a letter to the company’s chief executive. Several priests are chagrined, including the Rev. Lawrence Dowling of St. Agatha Catholic Church in North Lawndale, who argues that health care executives have “hijacked” Catholic hospitals’ original missions.

And Thomas Geoghegan, a Chicago labor lawyer , who is Catholic, said, “Name the pope: Leo XIII, Pius XI, John XXIII, Paul V, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Each one has thumped for the right to join a union.” “The Catholic Church’s solution to every labor and just about every economic question is ‘Bring in the union!’ But it’s the one papal teaching that American Catholics are allowed to ignore.”
Mr. Geoghegan clearly understands stiff challenges. His clients include the Chicago Teachers Union, which is itself facing a formidable force: Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

 

 


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