SEIU hospital decertification vote set for Friday

Hospital employees carried picket signs in front of St. Joseph's Medical Center for two hours Tuesday to protest the hospital's business ties to O'Connor Woods, a north Stockton retirement community with which the employees' union has an ongoing dispute.

The hospital workers, members of Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers-West, used their breaks and lunch hours to join the picket line along California Street in front of the Stockton hospital. The union members said they wanted to show their solidarity with the workers at O'Connor Woods, members of the same union who have been trying to get a labor contract for about two years.

"Our administration has unfortunately been involved with O'Connor Woods management. (Hospital President) Don Wiley doesn't think there is anything he can do. We want to send a message to the administration that we don't put up with these kinds of antics, that our managers stop working at O'Connor Woods," said Martha Vazquez, a radiology technician who has worked at St. Joseph's the past 15 years.

SEIU-UHW is apparently turning up the pressure this week because of a planned decertification vote Friday by the 210 eligible workers at O'Connor Woods that, if approved, would no longer give the union authority to represent the workers. To date, the union and O'Connor Woods have not agreed on a labor contract calling for higher wages and changes in health benefits.

A hospital spokeswoman said St. Joseph's only relationship with O'Connor Woods is through a contractual agreement to provide payroll, accounting, personnel, information technology and fund-development services.

"We don't direct or manage their operations or work force or their management. It is strictly a management agreement," the hospital's Natalie Pettis said. Wiley was unavailable for comment Tuesday, she said.

During the two-hour protest, no one from hospital management came outside to talk with the picketing employees, according to the union.

In a public statement issued Friday, Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Catholic Diocese of Stockton urged O'Connor Woods management to "negotiate without delay" a labor contract if workers vote Friday to keep the union.

"If they decide otherwise, that decision must be respected: Catholic teaching respects their decision," Blaire said.

O'Connor Woods CEO Scot Sinclair said he shared the bishop's statement with employees and residents.

"I fully support the bishop's statements. It's how we've been acting, and I certainly believe and follow the guidelines the bishop sets forth," Sinclair said.

As for the pickets outside the midtown hospital Tuesday, Sinclair said: "I'm surprised they would try to bring St. Joseph's in, because St. Joseph's doesn't have any control over things at O'Connor Woods. They don't have any interest in how things are operated out here."

In a written statement, SEIU-UHW said "essentially O'Connor Woods and St. Joseph's are the same employer."

The union said the link between the hospital and the retirement community, which was founded by St. Joseph's but separated more than a decade ago when the hospital affiliated with Catholic Healthcare West, is through Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. According to Katherine Martin, communications director for the Catholic order, Dominican Sisters is "not the employer" for either institution.

"They both have boards of trustees, and that's who is responsible. One hundred years ago, the sisters owned and operated institutions, but that's not true anymore. While the spirit of what they founded lives in today's institutions, it is not a legal relationship any longer. It has nothing to do with making any management decisions," Martin said.

"I'm sorry that the union has chosen to drag the name of a perfectly respectable organization into this," said Don Gerber, 77, a seven-year resident of O'Connor Woods who has closely followed the labor dispute and has been critical of the union's tactics.

Gerber, a former Bay Area resident, moved with his wife to O'Connor Woods because of its affordable housing for seniors.


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