The National Labor Relations Board on Friday ordered Prime Healthcare to honor its contract with 1,100 unionized employees at three of its Southern California hospitals. The NLRB gave Prime 21 days to comply.
The hospital chain originally agreed to the contract with the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West on Nov. 10, 2014. The contract covers workers at Centinela Medical Center in Inglewood, Encino Medical Center and Garden Grove Medical Center.
On Friday, Prime released a statement saying it disagreed with the ruling and will appeal it.
"Despite the union rhetoric, Prime Healthcare has a history of respecting all its employees and providing its hospital workers with the resources they need to provide award-winning care and service," said Elizabeth Nikels, Prime's vice president of marketing and communications.
"In this case, our negotiations with SEIU-UHW never culminated in an agreement between the parties," she added. "In fact, in evidence before the administrative law judge, the union's chief negotiator admitted that although the parties were close to a deal, they never finalized the agreement."
According to the NLRB ruling, Prime and union representatives had negotiated intermittently for several years before reaching an agreement in November 2014. Then last year, SEIU filed a complaint with the agency stating Prime had agreed to a contract only in order to gain the union's approval of its proposed acquisition of Los Altos Hills-based Daughters of Charity system.
Daughters was trying to sell its six financially ailing hospitals to Prime for $843 million. The union initially opposed the deal and was even sued by Daughters for its role in the ultimate demise of the deal.
The union stated in its NLRB testimony that while the union's approval would have paved “a smooth path toward state approval” of the acquisition, it never agreed to Prime's claim that the union's contract at its three hospitals was contingent on the deal going forward.
In the ruling, the NLRB judge found Prime's claim “patently ridiculous” and its arguments “vague, evasive, confusing and inconsistent.”
“It's sad that even when Prime says 'yes' to something that helps patient care, it will later do anything to get out of it in the name of running up profits,” Martha Alvarez, a nursing assistant and union member at Centinela Medical Center, said in a statement.
This is the second labor-related setback Prime has been dealt in the past three months.
The NLRB in November ruled that Prime had to reimburse 630 employees at Centinela Medical Center about $1.6 million for cutting healthcare benefits illegally over a five-year period.
The latest labor dispute comes as Prime attempts to acquire not-for-profit Petaluma Valley Hospital in Petaluma, Calif.
The SEIU is against the deal.