Queen of the Valley Medical Center must resume contract bargaining with workers who voted to join a union in a 2016 election, a federal appeals court has ruled.
On July 16, a three-judge panel rejected the hospital’s appeal of an injunction ordering it to negotiate with caregivers, including X-ray technicians, housekeepers and nursing assistants, who decided to join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) two years ago.
The unanimous ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals marks the latest legal decision for Queen of the Valley in its fight with its workers.
“Queen of the Valley Medical Center on several occasions engaged in retaliatory and hostile acts against union supporters,” U.S. Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder wrote.
The ruling reinstates an injunction issued last November by U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, ordering Queen to resume good faith bargaining and reverse retaliatory actions taken against caregivers while the hospital continues its legal fight to overturn the union election.
According to the NUHW, the hospital has claimed that the labor board “disenfranchised” workers by conducting the election through the mail, even though turnout was 90 percent, and workers elected to form a union by a 20-point margin, said the union news release.
In a statement, Larry Coomes, Queen of the Valley’s CEO, said, “We originally challenged the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) decision to certify the election after hearing from caregivers because we believed the election process did not protect all caregivers’ rights and ensure their voices were heard.”
With the injunction now back into effect, the hospital must now negotiate with workers without any conditions, said a news release from the union.
“We are disappointed with the Court’s decision to impose this outcome,” Coomes said in a July 17 memo to employees.
However, “We have repeatedly offered to bargain with the NUHW so long as our appellate rights are preserved. The NUHW refused each time,” said Coomes.
Queen of the Valley currently has an appeal filed with the National Labor Relations Board over the handling of the 2016 election, with a ruling expected at any time, according to Coomes.
“While it is frustrating that this process take a considerable amount of time, we strongly believe this is the right thing to do given the significant number of caregivers who came forward and raised concerns,” said Coomes.
“We are assessing next steps to preserve our employees’ right to a free and fair election which has been our goal throughout this process,” he said.
Hospital workers voiced frustration with the administration’s position. “It’s insulting for Larry Coomes to insist that he’s trying to protect our rights when he’s clearly trying to deny our right to form a union and bargain a contract to make Queen a better hospital,” said Gabbi Caro, a patient access representative.
“If he wants to make sure the voices are caregivers are heard, he shouldn’t make us have to get two different courts to order him to bargain with us no strings attached,” Caro said.
“Queen CEO Larry Coomes needs to do some soul-searching,” said Ray Herrera, a radiologic technologist at the hospital. “He’s wasted so many patient care dollars on corporate lawyers to fight a losing battle against caregivers who just want to negotiate a fair contract that improves their lives and the lives of patients they serve.”
In another matter, the union is also questioning the amount of charity care the Queen contributed in 2017. According to 2016 St. Joseph Health System and Providence Health & Services merger agreement, the Queen was to provide $2.9 million in such care. Instead, the Queen has provided $1.9 million in charity care, the union said.
The National Union of Healthcare Workers wrote a July 5 letter to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra requesting that he force the hospital chain to comply with its charity care obligation.
“There is no excuse for Providence St. Joseph not to satisfy its charity care obligation, especially when its hospitals are recording healthy profits,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said.
Dana Codron, executive director of community outreach at the Queen, the union’s data was “incomplete.”
“The union left out many important community benefit programs that improve the health of those we serve, far beyond charity care.”
According to Codron, in 2017 Queen of the Valley provided $22.2 million in community benefit in Napa County.
“Total community benefit services provided last year exceeded the amount the hospital committed to provide under the terms of the agreement,” she said.