Regional NLRB Accuses Hospital Of Illegal Spying

By Laurence Darmiento
Staff Reporter

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center's battle with registered nurses over their efforts to unionize has got it in hot water with the National Labor Relations Board, which accused the medical center of illegally spying on employees.

The regional NLRB board has filed a complaint against the hospital alleging security personnel photographed and sometimes videotaped employees on five separate occasions from December 2002 through July, during the California Nurses Association's unionizing campaign.

The Oct. 23 complaint of unfair labor practices, to be heard by an administrative law judge on Dec. 15, is the latest in a series of legal setbacks for the hospital, which has vigorously fought the campaign.

"Cedars-Sinai's illegal behavior continues a long pattern of attempts by this hospital administration of taking any steps it can to trample the right of registered nurses," said David Johnson, the CNA's Southern California director.

Registered nurses voted 695 to 627 in December to join the union after a bitter campaign that saw both sides trade accusations of intimidation, prompting the hospital to challenge the vote.

An administrative law judge dismissed those complaints, but the hospital has appealed that decision to the full Washington, D.C.-based board, halting any contract negotiations.

Meanwhile, the union's allegations of harassment and intimidation prompted the regional NLRB to file its Oct. 23 complaint. Specifically, it accused hospital security personnel of spying on nurses during the union vote on Dec. 11, 2002, and later, during union protests in May, June and July of the hospital's decision not to recognize the vote.

Jeanne Flores, the hospital's senior vice president of human resources, dismissed the complaints, saying that any surveillance that was conducted followed disturbances prompted by the union that required security personnel to be called in.

"If there is an incident, and we need to protect the safety and security of our people, we do have security procedures in effect. Among those processes, we will take photographs of that disturbance," she said.

Flores alleged that the December incident was caused when union personnel blocked a patient pick-up and drop-off area and refused to move, resulting in a loud argument.

The four other incidents stem from a series of union protests in which caravans of vehicles filled with union organizers and nurses drove slowly around the hospital campus honking their horns and calling on the hospital to recognize the union. Flores said the caravans disturbed patients and impeded access to the hospital.

Chito Quijano, the CNA's Cedars-Sinai organizer, said the caravans were a legitimate method of protest and did not impede hospital access. He said overly aggressive security personnel prompted the December incident. "It's all intimidation tactics so nurses won't support the union," he said.

If the hospital is found guilty of the unfair labor practice allegations, it will be ordered to halt any such activities in the future. NLRB officials declined comment.

Meanwhile, the hospital agreed last month to pay employees $875,000 in back wages following an internal audit requested by the state Department of Labor Standards and Enforcement. The audit was prompted by a complaint from an employee with union backing who said supervisors were illegally altering time cards.

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