Queen of the Valley Medical Center

Queen of the Valley Medical Center.

J.L. Sousa, Register file photo

The National Labor Relations Board has filed a complaint against Queen of the Valley Medical Center, accusing it of violating federal labor law by coercing pro-union workers and refusing to bargain in good faith.

The complaint, issued May 31 by NLRB Regional Director Jill Coffman, came in response to several unfair labor practice charges filed by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). The union represents 420 workers at the Napa hospital.

The union won an election in November to represent the workers, who include nursing assistants, pharmacy technicians and respiratory care practitioners, but the hospital has sought to overturn the result.

Coffman is asking a federal labor board judge to order the hospital to provide data it has withheld, allow the union access to the hospital grounds and begin good-faith bargaining.

Queen of the Valley Medical Center CEO Larry Coomes countered that the hospital “does not believe the election held in November 2016 ensured all of our employees had a free and fair ability to vote in the election.”

That left the Queen with first having to ask for a new election, which the NLRB rejected, Coomes said in a statement. Then the Queen refused to bargain with the union and waited for the NLRB to issue what is called a “bad-faith bargaining order,” he said.

An employer who fails to follow this specific procedural course waives the right to contest certification, “which is why Queen of the Valley strongly believes that taking this course of action and pursuing our appeal to the highest allowable court is necessary to protecting the rights of our employees and is consistent with our mission of inclusion for all,” Coomes said.

At the same time, “we offered to meet with the union to discuss the terms of a collective bargaining agreement with the understanding that it would only go into effect if our appeals were denied,” Coomes wrote. The union declined that request, he said.

In asking an NLRB judge to hear the case, Coffman said she found sufficient evidence that the hospital’s Environmental Services Director Bruce Herring “threatened employees with unspecified reprisals for engaging in union activities.” She further found that the hospital’s human resources director denied an employee’s request to be represented during a meeting with supervisors that could have led to discipline.

Both actions amounted to “restraining and coercing employees” in the exercise of their federal rights, Coffman wrote.

Coffman said she also found evidence that hospital administrators changed work schedules for employees because they reportedly assisted the union. The administrators, she added, were seeking “to discourage employees from engaging in these activities.”

Coffman is also asking the judge to require the hospital’s human resources director to read workers a notice spelling out their rights. A labor board official would have to be present at staff meetings to confirm that the hospital complied.

The complaint is “a powerful indictment of the Queen’s anti-worker behavior,” said NUHW President Sal Rosselli.

“The fact that the NLRB wants a Queen administrator to verbally explain to employees how the hospital violated their rights – and do it in the presence of a labor board official – is an extraordinary request reserved for egregious labor law violations,” he said.

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Union supporters spoke out about the complaint.

“From the moment we began organizing, Queen executives have tried to intimidate us and bully us out of forming a union,” said Ray Herrera, a radiology technician. “They clearly don’t want a workforce with the power to shine a light on how they have compromised patient care to further increase their profits.”

“We are thrilled that the labor board director took this action, and we are determined to continue standing up for ourselves and our patients,” said Anacelia Trejo, a cook at the Napa hospital.

The 211-bed hospital has until June 14 to respond to the NLRB complaint.

A tentative hearing before a National Labor Relations Board judge is scheduled for Aug. 7 in San Francisco.

Queen of the Valley is owned by Providence St. Joseph Health, the nation’s third largest hospital system, with North Bay facilities in Napa, Santa Rosa and Petaluma.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers represents more than 13,000 caregivers.

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Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.