BEND, Ore. - A new, surprising twist in a nearly 2-year battle between St. Charles Medical Center-Bend and its service workers' union: The union announced late Wednesday it is dropping its challenge to a representation re-vote -- and is now requesting one.
The Service Employees International Union was narrowly chosen to represent the roughly 600 workers early last year in a vote overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.
But numerous rounds of negotiations have failed to result in a first contract agreement, as charges of unfair labor practices have flown back and forth between both sides.
The union also fought a decertification vote, requested by at least 30 percent of the represented workers.
Here in full is the news release put out late Wednesday by SEIU Local 49; followed by the statement issued Thursday by St. Charles officials:
St. Charles Care Givers to Vote in Union Election…
(Bend, Oregon) Over the last two years healthcare workers at St. Charles have been working to achieve a voice on the job for themselves and their patients. Caregivers have demonstrated their majority for a union over and over again – first when they decided to form their union, then again when workers ran a newspaper ad reasserting their majority support for the union, and now again with another election that will decisively decide if workers are represented by the nation and the state's largest healthcare union; Service Employees International (SEIU).
"We know something about our work, our patients and our community, being in a union is the best way for us to advocate for quality patient care and good jobs," said Joanne Kennedy, Pharmacy Technician. " I'm not sure how many times we have to show management that we support our union, but I know I will vote yes as many times as it takes to get a fair contract."
In 2010 care givers at St. Charles Health Systems voted to be represented by the SEIU Local 49 in an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Since the vote for union representation, the hospital has continued to drag its feet in reaching a contract that allows care givers to afford to live in the Bend community, provide affordable health care, and have a voice on the job so they can be the best possible advocates for themselves and their patients.
This February a minority of the workers filed a petition that was supported by St. Charles management to force another union election. After several illegal tactics, that included repeat allegations of intimidation by St. Charles management the NLRB delayed the election indefinitely.
This delay on this election has been removed by caregivers who are now eager to show again that they are serious about having a voice on the job for their patients. Under the NLRB rules; SEIU 49 caregivers at St. Charles can request an election and the elected bargaining team has decided to move forward in this fashion. Similar to the nurse's election in Prineville St. Charles workers will again demonstrate that they are committed to a voice on the job for their families and their patients and want a contract that reflects those community values.
"The hospital needs to start listening to us. We want to improve patient care and create good jobs in our community," said Zach Roberts, Dietary Aide, "That's why after a lot of discussion we have decided as a team that we will move forward to an election. Blocking the election was the right thing to do at the time, but clearly the hospital needs us to prove again and again that we are serious about making important changes to safety, stopping the outsourcing, and securing affordable health care. Just like the nurses in Prineville, I'm ready to settle a contract that does just that."
The next steps are for the NLRB to assign an elections officer and set an election date. SEIU 49 is hoping for a swift election so that care givers at St. Charles can get back to advocating for their patients, and their families.
SEIU is the largest and fastest growing health care union in the country, representing over a million health care members and over two million members overall. SEIU Local 49 represents more than 10,000 members including certified nursing assistants, phlebotomists, laboratory assistants and other health care workers in Oregon and Southwest Washington.
St. Charles Medical Center statement:
In February, a grassroots group of St. Charles Bend caregivers filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, a government agency, requesting a secret-ballot election to determine if caregivers wish to retain or decertify the Service Employees International Union. St. Charles believes its caregivers should have the right to choose, in the privacy of a voting booth, whether they are represented by a union.
St. Charles leaders have worked cooperatively with the NLRB to try and set an election date. However, the SEIU filed a number of unfair labor practice charges, which resulted in the delay or blocking of the election. Some charges have been dismissed or withdrawn and the hospital settled other charges to avoid a lengthy and expensive legal battle -- and a further delay of the election.
This month, the SEIU filed a new charge in what appeared to be a continuing effort to stall the election.
Yesterday, the SEIU seemed to reverse its position. It issued a press release now saying it wants an election.
Attorneys for St. Charles have been in contact with the NLRB and understand the agency is reviewing the SEIU's request. No election date has been set.
"We hope that a fair, secret-ballot election will take place to give our caregivers the choice on union representation, which they requested last winter," said Kirk Schueler, chief administrative officer for St. Charles. "In the meantime, we are continuing to negotiate in good faith with the SEIU, and we have two dates set in October to continue negotiations."