Nurses trying to form a union at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak this week received good and bad news about their 18-month union drive that led them last summer to file eight allegations of unfair labor practices against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board.
Beaumont Hospital, the 1,109-bed flagship facility of eight-hospital Beaumont Health, on Aug. 28 settled the unfair labor practice charges against the nurses. Over the next two weeks, Beaumont will post notices that it has halted all alleged anti-union tactics, the NLRB said.
But the Michigan Nurses Association, which began helping the nurses organize in April 2019, decided to stop representing the nurses in their union certification drive, citing Beaumont interference.
The MNA, which said in a letter to the Beaumont nurses that the association has seen a massive increase in nurses at hospitals in Michigan seeking union representation the past year, but that the efforts of Beaumont to stifle union formation have been too strong to combat.
"The number of nurses around the state reaching out to us seeking to form a union has skyrocketed, even as we first-hand saw the chilling effects of Beaumont's anti-union activities at your hospital," MNA Interim President Diane Goddeeris, R.N., said in an email to Beaumont nurse union leaders on Thursday.
"It is hard not to feel anger when thinking about how different the past year could have been had Beaumont behaved differently," Goddeeris said.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Beaumont hired labor consultants and paid them $1.77 million to help it push back again the MNA-led union certification campaign. Goddeeris said those funds should have been spent improving staffing and providing more personal protective equipment during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit Beaumont Royal Oak the hardest of any Southeast Michigan hospital.
"The chilling effect (of Beaumont's anti-union campaign) was rapid and immediate. The number of nurses willing to show support for the union was dramatically dampened in this climate of fear. Though there have been ebbs and flows since, the sad truth is that no matter how many politicians were met with or parades were held, nothing overcame Beaumont's actions," Goddeeris said.
In a statement, Beaumont said it is pleased to reach a settlement with the NLRB over the eight unfair labor practice allegations.
"Contrary to the union's misrepresentations, this settlement is not a determination or finding by the NLRB that Beaumont violated federal labor law. The notices Beaumont is posting as part of the settlement affirm our longstanding commitment to protect nurses' rights under the law, including their right to support or to oppose unionization. We are deeply appreciative of the heroic work our nurses perform every day," Beaumont said in an email to Crain's Thursday evening.
The eight nurses' allegations cover: denial of access, concerted activities (retaliation, discharge, discipline); coercive actions (surveillance); discipline; coercive rules; changes in terms and conditions of employment; interrogation (including polling); and coercive statements (threats, promises of benefits), said the NLRB.
Goddeeris told the nurses that Beaumont is required over the next two weeks to post notices "stating that the hospital will not restrict your legally protected rights, revoking many of their policies, and undoing illegal discipline. Unfortunately, damage has already been done."
The NLRB said two of the notices that Beaumont has agreed to post state the following:
"We will not coercively interrogate you about your sympathies and activities on behalf of the (union) and other protected activities, including postings on a private Facebook page."
"We will not engage in surveillance of your activities on behalf of the union or create an impression that your union activities are under surveillance by telling you that your postings on a private Facebook page are not private."
Beaumont pro-union leader Beth Jacobs, R.N., said the nurses are happy with the NLRB decision and hopes Beaumont will allow the nurses to continue to discuss union representation among themselves without interference.
Jacobs said the MNA dropping out of the unionization campaign has caused the group to consider its options going forward. She said pro-union nurses have met with SEIU Healthcare of Michigan about representing them.
"This is a shock to most nurses but not the nurses who have been organizing the campaign since the beginning," Jacobs said. "We had a good initial meeting with SEIU and hope we can work with them in the future."
Jacobs said the MNA and Beaumont nurses disagreed over how to move forward with the certification campaign and that the MNA backed off from helping the nurses last October.
"The MNA was doing a great job with our campaign, but around October they just fell off. We had a core team of about 15 to 20 nurses who did the organizing and planning for the campaign. We had more than 150 organizers who held informational meetings. The MNA tried to eliminate that group for reasons I never understood," Jacobs said.
She said the MNA wanted 80 percent of Beaumont Hospital's 3,000 nurses to sign a public mission statement and make it public. While more than 700 nurses signed union certification cards, Jacobs said, many nurses were fearful of having their names made public so early in the process.
"They wanted us to release those signatures on mission statement before allowing us to sign cards," Jacobs said. "We all that that was unnecessary, especially with Beaumont quick to retaliate."
Jacobs said she spoke with several SEIU representatives who also said the public mission statement with the nurses' signatures was unnecessary.
Goddeeris said there are different strategies available to nurses to form a new union, but that the MNA believes in building nurse-to-nurse relationships.
"We need a high percentage of RNs to be actively involved in order to win a strong union. As a result of Beaumont's tactics and the pandemic crisis putting unprecedented pressure on nurses, we were not able to reach that level of engagement," she said.
In a statement, SEIU Michigan President Andrea Acevedo said the union looks forward to further discuss representation with Beaumont nurses.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the deep cracks and divides in our health system. Health care companies like Beaumont have prioritized for-profit revenue and executive pay at the expense of their workers," Acevedo said in a statement.
"This is why it's so important that all health care workers recognize their right to organize and use their voice in a union. Our health care workers are heroes, and they deserve to be protected and respected in their service to our community.
Earlier this year, the NLRB issued a preliminary ruling, pending a trial that was scheduled for April, that cited the following problems with what Beaumont did:
- Interrogating employees about their postings on a private Facebook page
- Threatening the loss of favorable working conditions or outsourcing for employees if they choose to form a union;
- Discriminatingly enforcing policies to prohibit distribution of pro-union materials
- Announcing a rule to prohibit employees from talking about unions.
But over the summer, Beaumont engaged in settlement discussions with the NLRB that led to the agreement.
The union effort by Beaumont nurse is the fourth drive over the past 24 years. One of the main goals has been to increase nurse-to-patient ratios. Beaumont officials said the hospital's staffing is strong and that the group's views don't represent the majority of nurses at the hospital.