Detroit Medical Center hospital charged with unfair labor negotiations
DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital in Commerce Township has been charged with multiple unfair labor practices by the National Labor Relations Board. Nurses have been negotiating an initial union contract since mid-2016.
An administrative hearing is scheduled for Nov. 5 at the Patrick M. McNamara Federal Building in Detroit to hear the charges of discrimination and failure to bargain in good faith.
Detroit Medical Center officials responded Tuesday evening, denying they had violated labor laws. DMC is owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp., an investor-owned chain based in Dallas.
"We formed our union to stand up for our patients. Our hospital should be working with us, not against us," Kathleen Lehman, a recovery nurse at Huron Valley and president of the Professional Nursing Association of Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital, said in a statement. "Instead, they're taking orders from Texas, and fighting us at every turn — interfering with our meetings, trying to stop us from talking to each other about our workplace. That's not only wrong and unfair — it's also illegal."
In a statement, DMC said it has been negotiating for two years on a collective bargaining agreement with Huron Valley nurses.
PNA-HVSH, the union for nurses at Huron Valley, is an affiliate of the Michigan Nurses Association.
"The parties continue to meet regularly and HVSH has met all legal obligations to bargain in good faith," DMC said in the statement. "HVSH is optimistic that the parties can reach mutual agreement in the near future. HVSH denies all unfair labor practice charges and looks forward to prevailing on these charges in the scheduled November 5, 2018 National Labor Relations board proceeding."
Two sources told Crain's late Tuesday night that DMC CEO Tony Tedeschi, M.D., was going to Huron Valley on Wednesday to discuss the contract issue with hospital management and possibly talk with nurses. DMC wasn't immediately available for comment.
Pat Kampmann-Bush, a recovery nurse at Huron Valley, told Crain's that progress began in December after the nurses filed a lawsuit against DMC and Tenet and issued a report on safe staffing at the hospital. She said the parties were moving in a good direction with several sticky issues nearly solved.
In a March sidebar negotiating session "things were looking really positive. ... We thought we would settle in a month," Kampmann-Bush said. She added that at the next meeting a DMC corporate administrator put a halt to the talks. "He told us we can't do anything. Everything is off the table. He said Dallas won't let him," she said.
Over the summer, Kampmann-Bush said, there were meetings, but the talks ended up being unproductive and even, in some cases, going backward in negotiated provisions.
During this time, the nurses union filed several complaints of unfair labor practices. The NLRB consolidated them and issued its order on Sept. 27. Huron Valley nurses received a copy Oct. 1.
"We are hoping Tenet changes its mind. We want to get a contract for safe staffing," she said. "We are hoping if there is enough push from Dallas, they will settle. It is not just a nurses contract, it is a patient contract."
The process for filing unfair labor practices starts with complaints to the NLRB. After it reviews the complaints, a decision is made on whether the alleged violations have merit. If they do, NLRB staff issues an order for an administrative hearing before an NLRB administrative law judge.
The NLRB complaint, which asks the administrative judge to reverse policies and reimburse nurses for any financial losses, outlines the following charges filed by Huron Valley nurses:
- Threatened nurses with discipline in retaliation for their efforts to improve wages and working conditions.
- Banned a union representative from entering hospital grounds.
- Refused to respond to requests for information needed by nurses for effective representation at the bargaining table.
- Refused nurses their right to meet with colleagues and labor representatives.
- In January, Huron Valley changed longtime meal and break policy by adding language that employees could be disciplined for missing meals without authorization.
- In April, a Huron Valley administrator forbid emergency department employees from combining breaks and rest periods, as was common practice.
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