Grievance Filed by Union Over Failed Hospital Elections

Staff Reporter

The Service Employees International Union has filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board after its six-month campaign to unionize workers at San Pedro Hospital ended in defeat.

SEIU Local 399 alleges that the non-profit hospital used threatening tactics to persuade 400 clerical, service and technical staff workers to reject union membership last month.

Each of the three groups voted separately in the June 21 vote.

Service unit employees, including food workers, certified nursing assistants, secretaries, housekeepers and janitors, voted 141-98 against joining the union.

The business office/clerical unit, which handles patient admitting, medical records and hospital switchboards, cast a 27 -10 vote against the union, while hospital technicians voted 38-36 against joining.

The NLRB must rule on each of the ballots. If it upholds all three, the union will have to wait one year before attempting to organize the hospital again.

"Management had a very strong anti-union campaign geared toward scaring people into voting 'no' and that's what happened," said Jonah Lalas, lead campaign organizer for Los Angeles-based Local 399.

He alleged hospital executives exaggerated what workers could expect in pay and benefit increases without a union contract and underestimated the gains SEIU has made for workers at other hospitals.

Hospital officials deny they used any illegal tactics to influence the vote. The hospital held only voluntary meetings where workers asked about what union dues would be, what guarantees it could offer and details of the voting process, said Nancy Carlson, the hospital's administrator.

"We did not have an anti-union campaign here at any time," Carlson said. "It was an educational, informative process and our employees expressed a lot of appreciation for being allowed to ask their questions."

Last year, 200 registered nurses at the hospital voted to join the California Nurses Association, and this defeat came despite the support of the local International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which has a strong presence in the area and whose members use the hospital.

Dave Arian, president of the ILWU Local 13, admitted his union has little experience dealing with organizations run by religious groups.

San Pedro Hospital is a member of the Providence Health System, a 17-hospital health care system sponsored by the Sisters of Providence religious community. In Southern California, it is also affiliated with the Little Company of Mary Sisters, another Catholic order.

Carlson said she hoped to resolve the NLRB case soon, adding that delays would create uncertainty among workers and possibly force the delay of future pay increases and benefits.

"On behalf of our employees we would like to come to a speedy resolution rather than to continue remaining in a holding pattern as we are in today," said Carlson.

Arian said the longshoremen will continue to monitor the hospital to make sure there is no retaliation against workers who supported the campaign.

The SEIU has been in fierce statewide competition with California Nurses Association to add health care workers to its ranks.

While the CNA consists solely of nurses, it formed an alliance with the United Steelworkers of America last year to accept other health care professionals, including 1,100 Long Beach Medical Center staff workers who joined the alliance last year.

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