A complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board against St. Charles Health System by the Service Employees International Union Local 49 could delay a union decertification vote by about a month -- and depending on the outcome, could scrap the vote entirely, an official said Tuesday.
The roughly 600 members of the union, voted in narrowly early last year, had been scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to oust the union, which has been unable to negotiate a first contract with St. Charles Medical Center-Bend. At least 30 percent of workers have to sign a petition to request such a vote, said NLRB spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland in Washington, D.C.
But last Friday, SEIU officials filed a unfair labor practice charge against St. Charles, alleging, among other things, that the hospital "has interfered with, restrained and coerced its employees" and "discriminated against them because of their union or other protected activity."
"Management has really -- it's really breaking the law and creating a very hostile environment for its workers," Felisa Hagins, SEIU Local 49 political director, said Wednesday.
The accusations range from terminating workers for pro-union activities to surveillance and intimidation of workers to bad-faith bargaining.
"At first I was surprised with the blocking of the vote," said Chris Buck, an ER technician and one of nearly 600 service workers at the hospital. "In my opinion, I think we have the majority to decertify the union."
"I love my job at St. Charles," Buck said. "I've always loved my job at St. Charles."
Buck said he's never had any issues with upper management or not being paid overtime, and sees no need for a union.
"To me, we have always had a voice," Buck said. "It just depends on if you're willing to stand up and use that voice without that third party present."
At the largest private employer in Central Oregon, the union flap has sparked some sharp divisions the community is noticing.
"I think it's taken a lot of time and energy on both the hospital part and the employee part," said Bend resident Linda Burgel.
Buck says his voice has been drowned out by the pro-union side. He said when he would put up a flier of how he felt next to one of the SEIU fliers, it got torn down.
"To me, it just seems like I was trying my opinion was being nullified -- and that just fired me up and inspired me to actually speak up now," Buck said.
Despite the lack of a contract, SEIU officials believe most workers are on their side.
"i think we have shown a strong majority," Hagins said. "I think workers continue to step up to keep and show their majority."
The complaint also claimed three workers were terminated last week "because of their union activity" and that the hospital "has refused to bargain in good faith" with SEIU.
The hospital has denied such claims and called Friday's filing "disappointing."
Cleeland said an NLRB investigator was on site at the hospital Tuesday to interview those involved.
Cleeland disputed the interpretation the union gave in the headline of a media advisory Tuesday that said the NLRB had found "sufficient cause to block (the) upcoming election."
Instead, she said, regional officials told her the union's allegations "are sufficient to potentially impact the election, and therefore it is appropriate to block the election" for the time being, to investigate the SEIU's claims.
The NLRB is handling the matter as "a priority investigation, because it is holding up an election," Cleeland said.
If evidence is found to substantiate the claims, a hearing will be held and employees called to be interviewed.
"Depending on the outcome, either they would ask the union to withdraw the charge and go ahead with the election, or determine the petition was faulty and dismiss the decertification petition," Cleeland said.
How long that will take "depends on what they find and how cooperative all the parties are," the NLRB public affairs officer said. "The target is to do it within five weeks."