Nurses Accuse Cedars-Sinai of Blocking Union Bid
Nurses at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Wednesday urged Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer to investigate possible violations of state laws by the hospital, saying Cedars-Sinai managers have illegally tried to thwart a union organizing drive.
Nurses at the West Los Angeles hospital are scheduled to vote next month whether to join the California Nurses Assn. Some allege that since September, when nurses successfully petitioned for a union election, the hospital has required them to attend meetings they describe as “union-busting sessions.”
Cedars-Sinai nurses and the California Nursing Assn. say the hospital hired labor relations consultants to conduct the meetings and advise managers on fighting the union drive. Because the hospital receives state funds, the union contends Cedars-Sinai used public money including Medi-Cal reimbursements to pay for an antiunion campaign, which would violate state law.
Jean Flores, a senior vice president at Cedars-Sinai, said the hospital is trying to persuade nurses to oppose the union in the elections to be held Dec. 11-13, but is doing so legally.
“We are in a campaign. We do not believe a union is in the organization’s or nurses’ best interest, and we are making that position clear. But we are doing so within the limits of the law,” she said.
Three nurses from the hospital, joined by half a dozen union members, met with Lockyer at his downtown Los Angeles office. Lockyer spokesman Nathan Barankin said the office is investigating the union claim, but as yet there is “no determination any law was broken.”
The union and nurses also filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, saying the hospital broke federal labor laws. They allege the hospital interrogated nurses about the union drive, conducted surveillance of nurses and threatened to fire employees supporting the union.
Cedars-Sinai vice president Flores said the charges are “without merit,” but declined to address specific allegations. “We will respond to the NLRB when we see the evidence,” she said.
The California Nurses Assn. seeks to represent about 1,500 of the 2,000 registered nurses at the hospital. The union is seeking a pension for the nurses, and has pointed out numerous limits on wages and benefits in the last several years as reasons nurses should unionize.
Flores said due to antitrust restrictions, the hospital cannot disclose the average pay of its registered nurses. Rosanna Grigorian, an operating room nurse who was among those who met with Lockyer, estimated registered nurses at the hospital earn an average of $32 an hour.
Grigorian and colleagues said that since the union organizing effort began, they have been called to numerous meetings in which managers distributed antiunion literature and argued against forming a union. In some meetings, nurses were shown a video documentary about a strike by registered nurses last month at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. Nurses there voted in November 2001 for representation by the California Nurses Assn.
Sharlyn Santa Romana, a neonatal nurse at Cedars-Sinai, said the only Long Beach Memorial nurses featured in the video were those critical of the union. She said the video was part of an hourlong “union-busting meeting” she was required to attend.
Cedars-Sinai vice president Flores said the hospital has conducted two types of meetings concerning unionization for nurses. She said Chief Executive Thomas Priselac and Chief Nursing Officer Linda Burnes Bolton have held more than 40 voluntary informational meetings with small groups of nurses. Nurses have also been required to attend classes on wages and benefits and labor law.
When asked about the video screenings on the Long Beach nurses’ strike, Flores said the documentary was shown during regular staff meetings. “I do not know if they were voluntary or mandatory, but other issues were discussed as well.... Managers meet with staff all the time.”