Sparks Fly in Organizing Effort at Tenet Hospital

Health Care
by Laurence Darmiento

The stalemated labor dispute at Garfield Medical Center is heating up. The Service Employees International Union and Tenet Healthcare Corp. have been fighting for two years over the union's efforts to organize and negotiate a contract for the hospital's 450 registered nurses.

The nurses voted 201 to 154 a year ago to form a union, but the two sides have yet to reach a contract. In fact, they have yet to sit down and talk.

Hospital administrators object to the inclusion of so-called "charge," or supervisory nurses in the bargaining unit and challenged the union's certification. The National Labor Relations Board rejected that challenge in August, but hospital officials still won't come to bargaining table.

"They won't even say they won't negotiate," said Jim Moreau, an organizer for the union, which has negotiated RN contracts at other local Tenet hospitals.

The hospital says it disagrees with the NLRB decision. But under the complexities of federal labor law, the case cannot be heard by a U.S. Appeals Court unless the union formally alleges an unfair labor practice for failing to negotiate.

"The courts are the place to settle this dispute," said Eric Jian, the hospital's director of marketing.

Moreau says the union won't make such a formal allegation, because that would play directly into Tenet's strategy, which he believes is to tie the matter up in the courts and wear the nurses down.

What's ahead?

The union has the support of state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, who said she would seek hearings to see what could be done to bring Tenet to the table (even though federal law supercedes state law in the case).

And after complaints by the union, the NLRB has alleged other unfair labor practice charges against Tenet that are to be heard at an April 1 hearing. Those include Tenet allegedly firing an employee for union activity.

Hospital Layoffs

Laying off 90 workers may not be as drastic a move as filing for bankruptcy protection. But the decision by Long Beach Memorial Medical Center cut jobs last month, only weeks after Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital sought Chapter 11 protection, is another sign of the stresses facing area hospitals.

Administrators at Long Beach and its sibling hospital, Miller Children's Hospital, said they were forced to lay off the workers after their financial performance took a rapid turn for the worse in the third quarter.

The two hospitals, operated by Memorial Health Services, posted a net loss of $120,000 in the quarter ended Oct. 31, after recording a $2.8 million profit in the prior three months.

The layoffs will result in the closure of a wound care center and two pharmacies, a cutback in hours at an urgent care center, and the sale of an off-site clinic. Hospital chief executive Byron Schweigert said the goal was to avoid cutting bedside personnel.

Clinic Turmoil

A former executive of L.A. Care has been appointed to replace Rudy Diaz, who finally stepped down as chief executive of Community Health Foundation under pressure from federal regulators.

Richard Veloz, a former director of government relations at L.A. Care, was appointed by the CHF board a few days after longtime clinic chief Diaz resigned Dec. 12.

Regulators with the Department of Health and Human Services threatened in November to cut off funding for CHF, an East L.A. medical clinic, unless Diaz stepped down by Dec. 14.

The clinic, which serves 300,000 residents, lost its contract last year after allegations that it had double billed government agencies for care it provided and had charged indigent patients for care that should have been free.

The allegations prompted an investigation by federal regulators who found various financial and clinical deficiencies.



Staff reporter Laurence Darmiento can be reached at (323) 549-5225 ext. 237, or at ldarmiento@labusinessjournal.com.

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