Nurses petition to oust AFT union

Petitions would trigger secret ballot decertification election

A year and 10 days after voting to unionize, nurses at Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence have submitted a petition to decertify from Nurses United Local 5126, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers’ health care division.

Carolyn Caldwell, who was named as Centerpoint CEO a month before the November 2007 union vote, said Thursday that the decertification petition was submitted to the National Labor Relations Board and to Centerpoint Chief Nursing Officer Lynn Barrett on Wednesday.

According to NLRB requirements, at least 30 percent of the roughly 350 Centerpoint nurses must sign a decertification petition before an election can be scheduled. Once the NLRB validates the petition, an election could be held within 30 days.

On Nov. 9, 2007, nurses at Centerpoint Medical Center voted 167-103, with 66 not casting ballots, to select Nursing United Local 5126 as their exclusive agent. Poor communications with management, on-call and vacation issues, nurse-patient ratios and pay were among reasons cited. But during the ensuing year, Nurses United was not able to negotiate a new contract with Centerpoint, one of 10 hospitals in the HCA Midwest Health System.

In October, the union presented a proposal containing 17 items that would have settled the contract negotiations, Caldwell said Thursday. The hospital agreed to all but one: union security.

Caldwell said union security would have required the hospital to terminate any nurse who refused by pay union dues or a management fee.

Two other HCA Midwest Hospitals are represented by Nurses United, and one of them, Lee’s Summit Medical Center, includes union security in its contract with nurses. The other, Menorah Medical Center, does not because it is in Kansas, a right-to-work state where such contract clauses are not allowed.

Phone calls to Nurses United were not immediately returned. However, the union stated in an advisory to Centerpoint nurses Wednesday that “(i)f a second vote is scheduled, it will be another opportunity for a clear majority of us to show HCA and Centerpoint how serious we are about choosing to keep our legal rights and protections through our union and to continue to advocate for our patients, our profession and our community.”

Caldwell said she had respected her nurses’ decision to be represented by the union last year. But she said she was pleased that some of the improvements made on the heels of the 2007 vote appear to be winning a vote of confidence in the hospital from nurses.

Those improvements have included the hiring of more than 60 new registered nurses and 23 patient-care techs since April.

The hospital also tried to give nurses pay raises in April and August, Caldwell said. But because the hospital was in contract negotiations with Nurses United, the union had to approve the raises.

Instead, the union rejected the raises until approving the hospital’s wage package in October. It went into effect on Sunday.

According to Caldwell, her administration has been negotiating on a new contract with Nurses United since February and since then has participated in nearly 40 negotiation sessions.


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