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Union leaders accuse USC hospital of illegally encouraging employees to throw out union

Union leaders accuse USC hospital of illegally encouraging employees to throw out union
USC Verdugo Hills Hospital employee Andrew Brown, right, pushed to get rid of a healthcare workers union at the medical facility, and a majority of its members voted to do so late last month. The union is now challenging that vote. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Leaders of a union at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital are asking the National Labor Relations Board to disregard a recent vote by union members to end third-party representation, claiming hospital management unlawfully influenced the voting process.

Late last month, members of Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, known as SEIU-UHW, voted 118 to 107 to dissolve the union they had fought to join about three years ago.

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Union leaders claimed that, prior to the vote, hospital management promised union members benefits, such as maintaining their health insurance and extending employment offers, if they left the union, while also supporting employee Andrew Brown, who spearheaded the disbanding effort, according to SEIU’s objection to the election filed Friday with the labor board.

In addition to “robbing the employees of a fair and free election,” the employer’s actions violated certain aspects of the National Labor Relations Act, the filing states.

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“It is [the hospital’s] position that this vote represents its employees’ desire to work with local leadership directly, as a team, instead of using a third party to represent them,” according to a statement from the hospital.

According to SEIU’s filing, Keith Hobbs, the hospital’s chief executive, also sent two letters — the first in October and the other in January — encouraging employees to decertify the union.

Hospital representatives would not confirm or deny the existence of the letters allegedly sent by Hobbs.

Brown, a surgical buyer at the hospital, has been fighting since October to dissolve the union when he filed a petition that was rejected by the labor board because it arrived two days too late.

Brown filed another petition on Jan. 1, which resulted in a two-day election held Jan. 30 and 31 and was overseen by labor board officials.

According to Brown, SEIU’s appeal amounts to a “stall tactic,” meant to drag out the process in order to hang on to power and collect dues as long as possible.

“There’s nothing that should overturn the clear preference of these employees,” said Patrick Semmens, a spokesman with anti-union nonprofit National Right to Work Foundation, which is representing Brown pro bono. “Unfortunately, union officials aren’t respecting the workers they claim to represent here.”

Semmens added that, under the National Labor Relations Act, employees have the explicit right to rid themselves of third-party representation through fair elections.

Union representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

Brown contacted National Right to Work in the fall, following the rejection of his first petition.

No hearing has been set for SEIU’s objection to the election. Meanwhile, the contract negotiated between SEIU and hospital management, originally set to expire Jan. 31, remains in place.

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