Nurses Union Files charges, NIH responds

Nurses File Charges Against Northern Inyo

Statement from the Negotiating Committee:

Northern Inyo Hospital Nurses represented  by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) have filed Unfair Practice Charges with the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), demanding that the Hospital District bargain in good faith over Grievance and Progressive Discipline. Registered Nurses have repeatedly stated that their primary goal is to re-­‐establish a fair and supportive environment for caregivers.
“We are doing this to maintain  the are and safety of our patients, to
retain experienced staff and nurture new nurses in a safe culture, to
be involved in NIH’s financial stability, and to support the  other
employees at the hospital who are part of our team,” explains the
Organizing Committee’s initial statement. After filing with PERB on
February 2, the Nurses’ Union was formally recognized on March
17, held Negotiating Committee elections on March 26, began
collecting Bargaining Surveys,  and engaged in the formal bargaining
process by initially meeting with the District on March 31. Bargaining Surveys showed overwhelmingly that a fair Grievance Procedure and the District’s Medical Leave Policies are of great
concern to nurses.  These  policies are linked because of the District’s practice of terminating sick employees after just 16
weeks of Leave. Most employers, and particularly Hospitals,
give significantly longer unpaid leaves, enabling employees
to return to their positions upon recovery.
“One nurse gave over 25 years of service to this hospital, got cancer and was separated,” explains Laurie Archer, a Recovery Room Nurse and member of the Nurse Negotiating Team. “The District’s current Medical Leave policy is inhumane, unrealistic, and does not support the retention of skilled caregivers for this community. ”
In April, the Hospital District’s Board of Directors changed  the Hospital’s Grievance policy by eliminating the Board of Directors
as the final decision makers in any termination appeal, and delegating the final determination to Hospital CEO Victoria Lane.
Since during bargaining it is unlawful for the  District to make changes for Registered Nurses without first bargaining with the
Union, Nurses understood this change would not apply to them.
Nurses attended the Board meeting, however, to support unrepresented employees, and, along with other employees, called
on the Board of Directors not to proceed with this change. After the
Board passed the policy in spite of these appeals, NIH Administration informed Union leaders  that it would be implemented for all employees, including Registered Nurses. Nurses
informed the District  that this change was unlawful during the  bargaining process. The Union did not decide to file charges, however, until the District went even further, informing the Nurse
Negotiating Committee on May 22 that it would not be bargaining
over Grievance or Discipline in Union Negotiations. Since just cause
discipline and a fair  grievance procedure are among the most important elements  of any Union contract, it’s difficult to imagine a
more flagrant sign of bad faith. The PERB Charge also asserts  that NIH has been unlawfully removing Union notices from hospital break rooms while leaving other non-­‐work related notices up on bulletin boards. This is the second set of PERB Unfair Practice Charges nurses have had to file against Northern Inyo Hospital. The
first Charge was filed while they were completing the organizing process in early  February, after CEO Victoria Alexander-­‐Lane
sent an email to employees alerting them to language in their
Retirement Plan that could  exclude unionized employees from
the Plan. The Union asserted that  the email, and  the Plan itself,
were threatening and discriminatory,  making them unlawful under
California Labor Law. In response to the Charge, the Hospital District amended its Plan to make it possible for Union employees
to bargain the Plan into their contract, and notified NIH Employees
that it had done so. Since  the Hospital District  had only recently settled the retirement related charges, nurses were shocked that
the District almost immediately proceeded to commit further violations, potentially triggering another expensive legal battle.
“We’re concerned that the District may be using valuable public resources to fight its Registered Nurses, when we should all be working together to resolve these  issues and focus on continuing
to provide the best possible patient care to our community,” says
Nurse Negotiator and 2013 Daisy Award Winner Chris Hanley,
“We call on the District to demonstrate its good faith, by agreeing
to a fair contract with its nurses.”

Northern Inyo Hospitals response

Northern Inyo Hospital remains committed to bargaining in good faith with the NIH nurses represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). NIH is making every effort to be fair to all parties involved while keeping its commitment to the community to provide quality health care at reasonable rates.
NIH reduced the rate of many services in an effort to bring a balance to health care in Inyo County, and will not apologize for placing the needs of its patients and the community it serves at the forefront. NIH’s RN pay scale range is $33.72 to $48.41/hour, or roughly $70,000 to $100,000 annually. RNs who work from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. earn an additional 8 percent shift differential, while those who work 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. earn an additional 25 percent.
In the long run, NIH is looking to preserve hospital service for this community. NIH must adapt how we provide services in order to meet modern patient needs.
To date, NIH has paid $56,000 for legal consultation in regards to the unionization. It is typical for both sides of any union negotiation to have legal counsel. However, NIH would rather see this money used to improve patient services.
Specific points about NIH Medical Leave:
NIH voluntarily goes above and beyond the 12 week Federal Medical Leave Act minimum with an additional four weeks of protected leave. A 2012 U.S. Department of Labor statistics report more than 70 percent of employees taking FMLA leave were back at work within 40 days. Only women who took leave to care for a new child took longer leaves.
Additionally, NIH employees may use any Paid Time Off (PTO) they have coming, plus other available resources, including the opportunity to have co-workers donate PTO hours to the employee.
After FMLA is exhausted, the medical condition is protected under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, the hospital has the right to not accommodate an extended medical leave because of an undue hardship to the hospital and a specific department.
In the last two years, there have been three instances where an employee was separated from NIH due to medical issues. One was separated after 23 weeks, one after 20 weeks and one after 16 weeks.
It is shameful that the RNs would accuse the District and its Board of Directors of being uncaring and inhumane. When faced with making needed changes, the Board stepped up, researched solutions and sought input from stakeholders. Their priority is the greater good of this community.
Specific points about NIH Grievance Policy:
NIH was the only District Hospital in the State of California where employees could appeal grievances to the Board of Directors. It would not be fair to non-union employees to have one grievance policy for union members, and another for everyone else. NIH is committed to a fair and just grievance procedure for all employees, and we are committed to assuring the nurses a fair process.
Northern Inyo Hospital remains committed to providing quality of care for its community. Should anyone have concerns about the quality of care received, please contact Maria Sirois, Chief Performance Excellence Officer, at (760) 873-5811 or maria.sirois@nih.org.

cover photo, Lynn Greer and Becky Taylor lead a “community meeting” discussing NIH.

northern inyo hospital, victoria alexander lane, bishop news, eastern sierra news