News & Events

National Labor Relations Board Issues Charges of Unfair Labor Practices Against Cerberus/Steward Health Care for the Illegal Firing of a Nurse at Holy Family Hospital & for Violations of Nurses’ Union Rights in an Attempt to Discourage Nurses’ Participation in the Union

This is the Third Complaint filed by the NLRB Against Cerberus-Steward Since Taking Over Control of More than 10 Hospitals in Massachusetts

The Nurses’ Union Has Also Filed Dozens of Grievances Against the For-Profit Owner for Its
Wanton Violation of Union Rights

METHUEN, MA – The National Labor Relations Board this week issued a formal complaint against Cerberus-Steward Health Care, citing the organization for its illegal firing of an exemplary long term nurse at Holy Family Hospital in retaliation for her efforts to successfully organize a union with the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United (MNA/NNU). The complaint also includes a second charge against Cerberus-Steward for their efforts to prevent nurses from wearing buttons in support of their esteemed colleague. The NLRB has scheduled a hearing on the charge for Feb.14, 2012. View the NLRB complaint.

“While I was devastated by Cerberus’ decision to fire me for no good reason, I am encouraged to see that they may finally be held accountable for their reprehensible behavior and mistreatment of nurses at our hospital,” said Mary Ramirez, the long time nurse at the center of this recent case involving questionable management practices by the new for-profit owner of more than 10 hospitals in Massachusetts. 

Ramirez, who worked as a registered nurse at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, MA for more than 18 years, was an exemplary nurse with an impeccable work history, who was once voted Nurse of the Year at the hospital. A committed patient advocate, Ramirez was also a leader in an effort by the nurses to organize a union with the MNA/NNU, which culminated in a successful union election in July of last year. A few weeks later, on August 23, 2011, after making a minor medication error that caused absolutely no harm to the patient (an error Ramirez reported), Ramirez was summarily fired by Cerberus-Steward in violation of the hospital’s own policy that calls for only a verbal warning after such an error.

Not only did Cerberus fire Ramirez, but they have also filed a complaint against Ramirez with the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing, in an unseemly attempt to undermine her ability to practice her profession. Cerberus-Steward has also opposed her claim for unemployment benefits.

Ramirez is adamant in her resolve to see that she receives justice in this case.  “Cerberus fought my unemployment and I would not go away, they filed a complaint against me at the board of nursing and I would not go away.  They need to understand that I will not go away.  They can’t treat nurses like this,” said Ramirez.

Outraged by the illegal firing, nurses at the hospital en masse began to wear buttons that read “We Support Mary.” Nurses also signed petitions in support of her cause and a delegation of nurses marched on the office of the hospital CEO to demand her immediate reinstatement. The hospital responded by issuing yet another illegal directive, posting a memo and having managers issue threats of discipline for any nurse who continued to wear the button in support of their colleague.

The NLRB has sided with the nurses and the MNA/NNU, finding cause to issue a formal complaint against the Wall Street giant. The labor board agreed with the MNA that in the firing and subsequent efforts to silence nurses, Cerberus-Steward was “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the rights” guaranteed them under federal labor law, and “discouraging membership in a labor organization in violation” of labor law. The board complaint also states that Cerberus-Steward “has been failing and refusing to bargain in good collectively and in good faith with the exclusive collective bargaining representative of its employees,” again in direct violation of federal labor law. 

In issuing the complaint against Cerberus-Steward, the NLRB states it will seek a number of remedies, including providing Ramirez with full back pay and payment of all taxes owed on her behalf, a demand that the hospital withdraw its complaint against her license with the Mass Board of Registration in Nursing, and to cease and desist its current practices. 

The new charge follows an earlier complaint by the NLRB against Steward, issued in November of 2011, for bad faith bargaining, when Cerberus introduced a new time clock system without negotiating in good faith with the MNA/NNU over the change. In fact, the MNA/NNU has filed a total of 10 charges of unfair labor practice against Cerberus-Steward in the last year with the NLRB.  The NLRB complaints follow the filing of dozens of grievances by the MNA/NNU with Cerberus-Steward for a series of violations of the nurses’ union contracts and rights, including the firing of 13 nurses at Carney Hospital following a patient care incident in which none of the nurses were involved. All 13 of those cases are being pursued through the arbitration process. 

The news of this NLRB complaint comes just weeks after members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and their national organization, National Nurses United, held a demonstration outside the Park Avenue headquarters of Cerberus in New York City, which was attended by hundreds of nurses and activists from across the nation.  The demonstration was called to highlight those very behaviors cited by the NLRB, and to warn the public about the consequences of the entry of for-profit private equity firms into the health care market.