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Board limits bargaining units in health facilities.

Union efforts to organize hospital and nursing home employees were adversely affected by a National Labor Relations Board ruling that the number of bargaining units in such institutions must be held to a minimum. The Board contended that the ruling conformed with a requirement imposed by the Congress in 1974 when it extended to employees of nonprofit health care facilities the right to bargain on wages and benefits. In granting this right, the Congress specified that bargaining units in such institutions should be as broad as possible to reduce the possibility that a small number of workers could paralyze a hospital. The Board did not specify the precise number of bargaining units that would be appropriate in a hospital, but one Board member said that four units might be appropriate in a large institution and two in a small one.

The case arose when the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers organized a small number of trades workers at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis, TN. In 1982, the Board ruled that the hospital must bargain with the union. At that time, the Board maintained that the basic test for a bargaining unit was whether the workers shared "a community of interests" in their wages, hours, training, and working conditions, the same requirement that applies in other industries.

In overturning the 1982 decision, the reconstituted Board held that unions seeking to designate bargaining units in health care facilities must prove a "disparity of interests," in wages and in the other working conditions that are sharper than in other industries.

The reaction from organized labor was immediate. Jerry Shea, health care coordinator for the Service Employees, complained that the ruling did not include "guidance as to what it means." He said some employers may withdraw from current bargaining on initial contracts and ask the courts to rule on the legality of the bargaining unit.

Management attorney John Irving disagreed, saying that the decision will preclude much litigation over bargaining units because the courts will now have a more definite understanding of the intent of the Congress regarding bargaining units.
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Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Nov 1, 1984
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