8/11/07

SEIU harasses, intimidates non-union nurses

Tensions are rising between pro- and anti-union employees at Citrus Valley Health Partners' three area hospitals, with accusations of harassment and intimidation being leveled on both sides. The Service Employees International Union's United Healthcare Workers West, which represents 140,000 healthcare employees in California, is trying to bring about 2,200 Citrus Valley workers under its wing. The union represents a broad cross-section of hospital employees, from security guards and cafeteria workers to pharmacists, physical therapists and nurses.

A group of employees at Citrus Valley - which includes West Covina's Queen of the Valley, Covina's Inter-Community and Glendora's Foothill Presbyterian campuses - have banded together to oppose unionization, arguing that they already enjoy close relationships with management and that union dues would create too much of a burden on the workers. The group, which calls itself Citrus Valley Family, has collected signatures from more than 500 employees expressing opposition to the union.

"I would like to choose where my money goes," said Yvette Montague, an administrative assistant for nursing administration at Inter-Community campus who has been with the hospital for 28 years. "I have been here a long time and feel I can approach my management any time. For them to charge me dues for something I already can do on my own is outrageous."

Meanwhile, pro-union employees have complained about having their hours cut and being forced by management into anti-union meetings, and they say they simply want a fair and fast election to let workers decide whether they want to unionize.

"I was approached by my director (during a pro-union meeting) in the cafeteria, who took me outside and told me there was a policy against loitering more than 15 minutes before the start of one's shift," said Cesar Buenaflor, who sterilizes surgical equipment at Queen of the Valley. He said anti-union employees are allowed to congregate for hours on the hospital campus.

Hospital officials countered that they are in favor of allowing workers to decide whether to join the union, as long as they have all the facts.

"We believe in assisting employees to make an informed decision," said Lisa Foust, vice president of human resources for the hospital group.

Registered nurses at Queen of the Valley and Inter-Community already belong to the California Nurses Association union, paying roughly twice their base hourly pay per month in dues.

But SEIU-UHW officials say their dues are set at 2 percent of salary excluding overtime, and are capped at $90 per month.

SEIU-UHW is also trying to bring non-union nurses at Foothill Presbyterian under its umbrella.

Citrus Valley management claims it is in favor of allowing employees to vote on whether to allow the union in.

"The National Labor Relations Act already provides for election guidelines and how they should be carried out," said Foust. "It is already a matter of federal law."

But that act is outdated, and Congress is in the middle of passing legislation to reform it, said John Borsos, vice president of SEIU-UHW. The union is trying to get Citrus Valley management to sign onto more specific guidelines like those adhered to by other hospital groups like Kaiser Permanente and Catholic Healthcare West.

"NLRA guidelines as they currently stand allow employers to interrogate employees, pull them out of work and show them videos from management consultants, and allows employers to undertake a terror campaign against employees wanting to organize," said Borsos. "That is not a very conducive environment for a fair election."

Borsos accused the hospital of already hiring the Burke Group, which describes itself on its Web site as specializing in union avoidance and boasts of helping clients avoid more than 70 union elections.

Asked whether the hospital had hired the Burke Group, Foust said only that Citrus Valley was conducting a communications campaign and the hospital was compliant with NLRA guidelines.

"We believe our employees have the right to hear both sides of the argument and we are proceeding with our information campaign," she said.

Debbie Carrico, a secretary and monitor technician at Inter-Community, said she has seen the hospital's consultants targeting the hospital's primarily Spanish-speaking housekeeping and dietary staffs.

"They seem to bully them, intimidate them and tell them that if they join the union they will lose benefits and will have to reapply for their jobs," said Carrico, who has been at the hospital for 12 years.

Valentina Legaspy, a nursing administrative assistant at Queen of the Valley, said she has seen no such hardball tactics.

"I have seen no intimidation from management whatsoever," said Legaspy, who is against unionization. "Citrus Valley has excellent benefits, focuses on the community, patients and employees. We have a lot of long-term workers here. I have been here 11 years and I'm considered a newbie."

And while the union accused the hospital of hiring big union-busting firms, anti-union employees accused SEIU-UHW of bringing out the big guns as well, using pro-union politicians like state Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, Assemblyman Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, and Rep. Hilda Solis, D-El Monte, to encourage workers to vote union.

(sgvtribune.com)

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