The San Benito Health Care District Board of Directors approved on April 26 a letter of understanding and resolution to protect union nurses. The approval was a preemptive move to try to dampen the effects of a potential sale of Hazel Hawkins Hospital, as well as an upcoming June decision by the United States Supreme Court that could strip public-sector unions of their collective bargaining power.
The letter of understanding stated that within 60 days of a sale or similar event, the hospital would provide the nurses’ union with the contact information for the new owner or operator. Prior to a potential sale or merger, Hazel Hawkins Hospital would also inform the new entity of the existence of an agreement in which current employees would not be required to reapply for their positions and would recognize the union as the collective bargaining representative for the nurses.
“The board approving this is huge,” said Brandy Applewhite, nurse and union representative. “It shows that we are working together collectively to care for patients and the community. They [the board] are consistently showing we’re working together now, more so than before.”
The resolution approved by the San Benito Health Care District board on April 26 recognized the nurses for their contribution to the community and that a unionized workplace made it possible for the nurses to address concerns related to the delivery of care and to work together with the hospital and district to improve health care. It affirms a commitment to abide by an existing memorandum of understanding involving the union, state and county laws, and the Brown Act, to refrain from interfering with the operation of the union or discriminating against hospital employees.
The gist of the resolution was prepared in response to nurses’ concerns over the Supreme Court case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Workers (AFSCME).
If the court decides in June in favor of Mark Janus, who has been required to pay union dues despite not being a member of a union, it would end compelled payments in 22 states that currently require them of public employees. It could also weaken the power of public unions by eliminating their ability to collect fees from employees who don’t join the union that represents them, according to an article from The Washington Post.
Hazel Hawkins Hospital CEO Ken Underwood voiced his support of the approved resolution and stated he has worked with the nurses, other employees, and physicians for 18 years to fulfill the original mission of the public hospital. Despite the hospital’s financial difficulties, the nurses have always shown commitment to working with the community and hospital to ensure the safety of patient and public health, he said.
“As the CEO of the hospital, I’m fully supporting and recommending the board favorably support this resolution and for the administration to remain neutral in the upcoming Janus v. AFSCME ruling, and the successorship contract language for the registered nurses,” Underwood said.
Applewhite believes the case will pass in favor of Janus and said the union is prepared to deal with it.
“If it passes, public-sector union members will still get 100 percent coverage from the unions,” Applewhite said. “You can be a non-paying union member and still get all the benefits from the union. So why join the union? They’ve got to protect you, anyway.”
Benito Landeros, a registered nurse for 14 years, said the letter of understanding and the resolution represents a big win for the union nurses.
“What [Janus v. AFSCME] comes down to, it’s trying to break up our group and our voice,” he said. “This is a big win to have the administration support our voice. It’s a lot of work to be a patient advocate and do what’s right by the community and to just take care of our home. No one is going to take better care of our community than the people who live here.”
Diane Beck, registered nurse and the elected chief nurse representing the union, read a long statement during the meeting about why the nurses believe that a successorship provision is critical to protect RNs, the patients, and Hazel Hawkins in the event of a sale, merger, or joint operating agreement so the nurses would not have to bid for their jobs or lose them.
The nurses would not have been able to assure the safety of their patients without the collective strength of their union, she said.
“These are not actions we would have been able to achieve without the protection and strength of our union,” Beck said. “These are protections that are not for us, but for the good of our patients, our neighbors, and our employers. Our nurses know first-hand that it is only because of our hard-fought contract and the continued unity and activism that we not only ensured, but have improved patient care and safety.”
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