The move by more than 400 nonprofessional and technical workers to unionize at Greater Southeast Community Hospital in Washington could complicate efforts by the hospital's interim managers to turn the troubled facility around.
The workers voted late last month to join the Service Employees International Union (Aug. 30, p. 4). For collective bargaining purposes, the District of Columbia Nurses Association already represents the approximately 400 nurses who work at the hospital. About 300 professional and administrative employees at Greater Southeast are not represented by a collective bargaining unit.
The workers who voted to join the SEIU include licensed practical nurses, laboratory technicians, phlebotomists and other service and support staff.
Union organizers said the workers were most concerned about employee layoffs and the effects of those layoffs on remaining employees.
Already, the parent corporation of the 305-bed hospital, Greater Southeast Healthcare System, has laid off at least 250 workers at the hospital and other subsidiaries.
As the remaining workers have taken on more tasks, they've complained that they have had trouble doing their jobs as effectively as before.
"It hurts our reputation," said Carroll Powell, a unit secretary and union organizer. "The community has seen us as unable to complete tasks efficiently, but the community doesn't realize that many of us are doing two or three jobs. There's no way that you're going to be able to do anything well."
Powell said the hospital's board and managers have not included workers enough in turnaround-related decisions.
The unionization vote presents new challenges to a hospital and healthcare system trying to pull themselves out of a hole. Facing multimillion-dollar losses, Greater Southeast hospital and health system sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May and received an $8.5 million aid package from the District of Columbia government (May 31, p. 4).
The filing was part of a turnaround plan that included hiring Intensive Resource Group, a unit of Brentwood, Tenn.-based Quorum Health Resources, to manage the facility.
Nancy Hill-Davis, chief human resources officer at the hospital, acknowledged that the SEIU vote could affect hospital decisionmaking.
"If we were making any changes, we would be required to negotiate with the union," Hill-Davis said. "It definitely could slow the process."
But hospital administrators have sought employees' opinions, she added.
IRG is scheduled to deliver a rescue plan to the hospital's board later this month.