CANTON, Mass. — The Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) joined the California Nurses Association (CNA) in condemning a deal announced on Monday by Tenet Healthcare and the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) as an attempt to bribe Tenet employees, deny them a democratic choice on who should represent them and, in the end, create a "company union" that will deny nurses at California-based Tenet hospitals from having a real and powerful union voice on patient care issues.
The Tenet-SEIU agreement would allow SEIU to conduct organizing campaigns and hold union elections at 28 Tenet hospitals in California and two in Florida – with the blessing of Tenet’s hospital management. In return, and in advance of any employees voting for the union, SEIU union locals at the Tenet hospitals are required to accept pre-negotiated wages in a four-year contract agreement and give up their federally legislated right to strike.
The deal follows months of bad press and scrutiny of Tenet Healthcare, including government probes into allegations of widespread Medicare fraud by the company, and is seen by many as a way to squelch true organizing efforts at Tenet facilities, as well as to buy the silence of long-time critics of the corporation. The MNA also believes Tenet has cut the deal to work with SEIU as opposed to the powerful California Nurses Association, which has negotiated much stronger agreements for nurses in the state.
"This kind of back-room dealing by a union with the country’s most notorious anti-union and anti-patient corporation is nothing less than shameful and represents a major setback for the labor movement in California," said Julie Pinkham, RN, executive director of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, an independent nurses union representing more than 22,000 RNs and health professionals in Massachusetts. "The point of collective bargaining is to organize a union to negotiate a contract that meets your needs. This deal forces nurses to except a contract in order to have a union, and a union without the power to act like a union at all."
World renowned consumer advocate Ralph Nader has also joined CNA and the MNA in questioning the agreement and its impact on patients.
"Tenet is notorious for its commitment to profits regardless of the consequences for the public’s well being," said Nader. "As has already occurred with other arrangements, SEIU’s back room deal degrades independent professional responsibility of nurses for patient care protection."
The Massachusetts Nurses Association represents two Tenet-owned hospitals in Massachusetts and is currently negotiating a new contract at Tenet-owned St. Vincent/Worcester Medical Center in Worcester, Mass. In 2000, the nurses at the facility led a highly publicized 49-day strike over the issues of unsafe staffing and mandatory overtime, ultimately winning landmark contract language to prohibit the practice at the facility.
"We believe employees should be free to form unions with a representative of their choosing, in an environment free from company coercion," Pinkham said.
On Thursday, registered nurses at seven Tenet hospitals in Los Angeles and Orange County petitioned the federal labor board for a representation election. That process, which provides RNs at those hospitals with a genuine democratic choice and allows other unions to participate, supersedes the Tenet-SEIU pact and will proceed.
"Free elections should be a model for Tenet RNs and all Tenet employees. In the United States, employees still get to choose their union and should not have the company choose it for them," said CNA executive director Rose Ann DeMoro.
"It’s outrageous that non-union Tenet RNs and other employees, who are far behind the economic standards of other hospital workers, especially RNs represented by CNA in 150 facilities across California, would be compelled to join a union anointed by Tenet to qualify for pay increases," DeMoro said.
"Tenet should immediately provide the pay increases and any other improvements promised in this back room deal to its deserving employees – without conditions, and without denying their democratic rights to freely select a union of their choice," DeMoro added.
Instead, Tenet employees would be locked into a long term agreement with the main terms decided in advance in closed door meetings with top managements of Tenet and SEIU.
Further, there are no indications that Tenet RNs, in particular, will be permitted to continue to exercise their patient advocacy obligations and be able to freely protect their patients. In the Kaiser Permanente deal with SEIU and AFSCME which SEIU cites as a model in its press release, those unions agreed to silence on hospital closures or any business decisions that compromise patient care and SEIU co-wrote harmful programs such as bonuses for telephone advice clerks who limit patient referrals to physicians.
CNA said yesterday that it will file charges with the National Labor Relations Board and is considering other legal actions against the pact. Several provisions of the deal are illegal including:
- Forcing employees to join SEIU as a condition for receiving pay and benefit increases.
- Bribing employees with the promise of increased pay solely based on joining SEIU.
- Selecting for employees what union they have to join and granting exclusive favors to that union.
For Tenet, said DeMoro, "This appears to be a short term public relations strategy designed to drive up their stock prices with the supposed promise of ‘labor peace’. Perhaps they are guided by illusions of hefty profit taking for top executives who have seen their stock portfolios plummet in recent months due to numerous federal and state investigations into Tenet’s billing practices and patient care conditions."
"But it will be a failed strategy," DeMoro continued. "If Tenet is doing this for investor security, investors should feel anything but secure."
More information about CNA, Tenet, and SEIU is available on the CNA website at www.calnurse.org.