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Cedars-Sinai Loses Bid to Thwart Nurses’ Union Vote

Times Staff Writer

The regional office of the National Labor Relations Board has dismissed all objections by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to a vote by its nurses to unionize, paving the way for organization of registered nurses at the largest private hospital in the West.

The victory by the California Nurses Assn. comes as another hospital district in the Antelope Valley officially recognized the right of the same union to represent registered nurses there. The victories cap a series of successful organizing efforts in Southern California by increasingly powerful nurses’ unions.

Cedars-Sinai nurses voted in December, 695 to 627, to join the union. The hospital had challenged the results on numerous grounds, including a charge that the union had threatened and intimidated nurses.

But the administrative law judge who heard the regional appeal found no merit to the complaints.

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Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the 50,000-member California Nurses Assn., said she was elated. “We hope ... that Cedars-Sinai will sit down and negotiate a contract,” DeMoro said.

Cedar-Sinai officials would not comment. “We’ve not yet received the documentation and therefore are unable to comment,” Vice President Grace Cheng said.

According to National Labor Relations Board procedure, the hospital can appeal the labor relations board’s decision to the national office in Washington, D.C.

Eva Buenconsejo, a nurse at Cedars-Sinai for 20 years, said the board’s decision was “such a relief.”

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In between caring for patients, the neonatal intensive care nurse motioned fellow nurses into the conference room to tell them the news. “People were asking me every day whether the decision had come in. Now that it’s here, everybody is so happy.”

Nurses at Antelope Valley were celebrating what Julia Mallyon, a neonatal intensive care unit nurse, called their “great victory.”

When the Antelope Valley Health Care District Board voted 4 to 0, with one abstention, to recognize the union and moved to begin bargaining, audience members stood up and cheered, Mallyon said.

“We’ve been working in an unsafe situation,” said Colleen Sichley, a mental health nurse. “There’s no time to sit down, talk to patients about what’s wrong.... There’s no time even to know their names.”

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Sichley said the triumph did not come easily. She made the first call to the California Nurses Assn. in February 2002, when she saw nurses crying in the parking lot because of their heavy patient loads. Some told her they were caring for as many as 16 patients each.

In May, a majority of the hospital’s 550 nurses voted to join the union. But the hospital board refused to recognize the vote because, board members said, the vote was not secret.

The election of two union-backed representatives to the five-member board in November resulted in a pro-union majority, nurses said.

“Now we need to work on a contract that gives nurses more involvement in the process of caring for patients,” Sichley said. “We need to decrease the patient load for each nurse and look at the amount of overtime.”

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Ed Callahan, a spokesman for Antelope Valley Hospital, would not comment on how the board reached its decision. “All I can say is we’re following the law so we’re going to recognize them,” he said.

The nurses at Antelope Valley are the latest to join the California Nurses Assn., which has signed up about 6,000 nurses at 11 other hospitals in Southern California in the last two years. About 3,500 registered nurses at seven hospitals in Southern California have joined the Service Employees International Union, said union spokeswoman Lisa Hubbard.

Hubbard said some hospitals still refuse to recognize unions that have won elections.


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