The National Labor Relations Board issued a decision this week that found Southcoast Hospitals Group, owner of Tobey Hospital in Wareham, violated the National Labor Relations Act during recent contract negotiations with its unionized registered nurses. Specifically, the administrative law judge overseeing the case found that during negotiations, which began in November of 2014, the hospital 1) failed to provide the nurses’ union with requested information relevant to their contract talks; 2) introduced an untimely and regressive wage proposal in violation of the parties’ ground rules; and 3) unilaterally implemented its bargaining proposal “in the absence of a valid bargaining impasse.”
The 142 RNs working at Tobey Hospital who are unionized with the Massachusetts Nurses Association had been negotiating a successor contract with management for six months when, on April 1, 2015, management prematurely declared impasse and unilaterally implemented its last contract proposal. That proposal, which was a new and regressive proposal pertaining to a wage freeze, was submitted on March 9, 2015 in violation of an existing ground rule stating that no new proposals could be submitted after Dec. 7, 2104.
These illegal decisions by management resulted in lost wages, lost holiday time, and lost 401k contributions for the Tobey RNs. It also meant that the nurses were unable to continue negotiating their successor contract with management, leaving important issues such as scheduling, layoffs, and successorship standards to languish for months.
In response, on April 16, 2015 the nurses filed an unfair labor practice charge against Southcoast Hospitals Group with the NLRB. On July 31 of 2015 the Board’s general counsel, in support of the nurses, issued a complaint against Southcoast saying that the hospital group had in fact violated the National Labor Relations Act. But on August 12, 2015 the hospital filed a response with the NLRB denying the complaint.
The case then went to trial and was heard by an NLRB administrative law judge in Providence, RI during the weeks of Oct. 27 – 29 and Nov. 18 – 19, 2015, at which point extensive evidence was presented by the MNA and numerous RNs and union leaders took to the witness stand.
This week, just three and a half months after the trial, the NLRB ruled entirely in favor of the Tobey Hospital nurses. Said David I. Goldman, the administrative law judge who heard the case, “I find that the hospital’s failure to provide the requested benefits information violated the Act … [and] Finally, I find that a valid bargaining impasse did not exist when the hospital declared impasse and unilaterally implemented its proposals. The implementation violated the Act.”
“Getting this decision from the NLRB is completely empowering and uplifting,” said Maddie Jezierski, RN and chairperson of the MNA bargaining unit at Tobey. “We knew a year ago that management had violated the National Labor Relations Act and that they were bargaining with us in bad faith. That is why we filed the unfair labor practice charge, and that is why, as a group, we stayed committed to following this process through to the end.”
“It has been a long road,” added Jezierski, “but this decision has made it all worthwhile.”
Southcoast Hospitals Groups now has 28 days to either appeal the NLRB decision or to begin implementing all of the remedies outlined in the judge’s decision. Remedies include:
· Furnishing the union with any and all information it previously requested
· Rescinding the changes that were implemented as part of its “final offer” on March 9, 2015
· Repaying RNs any lost earnings (plus interest)
· Compensating RNs for any adverse tax consequences associated with repayment of lost earnings (lump-sum payments, etc.)
· Disseminating several copies of an NLRB-issued notice detailing Southcoast’s violations, including public postings inside the hospital and emails/mailings to all affected RNs
“It’s time for management to make our nurses whole,” said Jezierski, “and it also time to get back to the bargaining table.”