Queen of the Valley Medical Center

Queen of the Valley Medical Center.

J.L. Sousa, Register file photo

Queen of the Valley Medial Center and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) faced off this week in a San Francisco courtroom over a complaint filed in May charging that hospital managers coerced pro-union workers.

The complaint, filed by the National Labor Relations Board, accuses Queen of the Valley Environmental Services Director Bruce Herring of having “threatened employees with unspecified reprisals for engaging in union activities.”

An administrative law judge in San Francisco is conducting the hearing, which was expected to last one week, but could be extended if necessary. The results of the hearing could be announced within a few months.

The dispute began last November when Queen workers voted in the NUHW union election.

A total of 202 Queen workers voted in favor of joining the union, and 132 voted against joining. The voting group includes nursing assistants, pharmacy technicians, cafeteria workers and respiratory care practitioners.

Since then, the Queen has challenged the vote with multiple appeals.

After the election, the Queen claimed that the labor board erred by holding the union vote by mail rather than inside the hospital.

“We respect employees’ right to vote to support or not support a union” in an election, Larry Coomes, CEO of Queen of the Valley Medical Center, said in an email to the Register on Wednesday.

“We also believe this decision should be made free from threats, intimidation, coercion, delays in the U.S. mail system and confusion regarding the voting process.”

“Given the significant number of employees who came forward and raised concerns, we strongly believe that we are upholding the rights and dignity of all caregivers, and ensuring that their voices were heard,” said Coomes.

“The filing of objections and subsequently appealing is necessary to protect the rights of our employees and is consistent with our mission of inclusion for all,” said Coomes.

Response to the election exceeded 90 percent, said the NUHW. There was no problem with the voting.

“As a long-time Queen employee, it has been very troubling to see the lengths that the hospital has gone to, all to deny us a voice to stand up for ourselves and our patients,” said Ray Herrera, an X-ray technician at Queen of the Valley.

The hearing taking place this week is one step in the election appeals process established by Congress and the National Labor Relations Board that could eventually be reviewed by the United States Court of Appeal, Coomes said.

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“There is no reason to wage this costly legal battle all the way into this federal court system,” said NUHW spokesman Matt Artz. “It was a free and fair election.”

“We look forward to the process unfolding in a timely manner and will continue to look for ways to expedite the process,” said Coomes.

“We asked them to agree to a new in-person election, and offered to meet with them to discuss the terms of a collective bargaining agreement with the understanding that it would only go into effect if our appeals were denied. The union declined both requests,” he said.

“It’s an insult to Queen caregivers and the democratic process for Larry Coomes to demand a revote of a government-run election in which 90 percent of eligible voters cast ballots,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said.

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.