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Health care bargaining.

Health care bargaining

Ending a 7-day work stoppage, some 11,000 nurses, technicians, and maintenance employees at 7 hospitals and 40 clinics in southern California, represented by the Service Employees Union Local 399, ratified a 3-year collective bargaining agreement with Kaiser-Permanente, the Nation's largest health maintenance organization. The work stoppage came after a tentative 3-year, $44 million contract offer was accepted by union negotiators, but was rejected by the rank and file. The rejected proposal included a 5- to 6-percent wage increase in the first year and 3- to 5-percent raises in the second and third years, with the actual rate depending on the employee's job classification. In addition, $1.5 million would have been used in die second and third years of the contract to correct certain "internal pay inequities." Local 399 President Jim Zelles reportedly said, "Kaiser workers were angry at the company's arrogance and failure to provide adequate information about restructuring of jobs and increases in the second and third years of the contract. The fact that we went back to the table and won a contract so quickly after the earlier offer was rejected reflects upon the solidarity of Kaiser workers and their determination to win a better contract." Another union representative suggested that the union's leadership misread the mood of their members who had accepted a wage freeze under the prior contract. Local 399 Vice-President Dave Stilwell, reflecting on the mood of the membership, said, "There was a lot of anger and frustration in their voices." He added, "Some of these workers said that they had not been given raises since 1984. They basically heard the across-the-board wage increase schedule and didn't want to listen any further." Al Bolden, Kaiser Vice-President, commenting on the rejected offer, believed the terms were not conveyed well to the membership. He said, "It was a matter of miscommunication. I think, though, that with better information about the offer, the outcome of the vote would be different."

The new contract was reportedly ratified after some of the $44 million in raises was shifted to the second and third years and after the company provided more detailed terms of the tentative settlement to their employees before the second ratification vote. The accord calls for general wage increases of 5 to 6 percent, depending on job classification, retroactive to April 1, 1990, and 4- to 7-percent increases in the second and third years (instead of the 3 to 5 percent under the original offer). The $1.5 million earmarked to correct wage inequities in the first year under the original proposal was spread around to give about two-thirds of the employees 4- to 7-percent raises in the second and third years. (The remaining one-third of the workers received 3-percent increases.) The pact also provided an additional $2.7 million in the first year to resolve "pay inequities."

Other terms included two new longevity increases effective in the first year of the contract, 50 cents an hour for employees with more than 20 years of service and 60 cents for employees with more than 25 years; increases in differentials for working evening and early morning shifts; use of a floating holiday for leave on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday; increased employer pension contributions; improvements in flexible shifts; and a $15 increase in the monthly bilingual differential (to $65) in the second year of the contract. In another development, Health Employees Inc. and the Service Employees Local 113, representing about 3,700 hospital service employees in Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN, reached an agreement under a wage reopener in a 3-year contract that was scheduled to expire on March 1, 1991. Health Employees Inc. bargained for 12 hospitals and their laundry centers in the Twin Cities. Under terms of the wage reopener, the employees received pay boosts averaging 7 percent and, based on longevity, ranging from 5 percent for employees with less than 2 years of service to 9 percent for those with 8 years or more. In addition, somewhere between 100 and 500 employees became eligible for "pay equity increases" varying between 25 and 50 cents an hour. The wage boosts were approved by the hospitals, according to a Health Employees Inc. spokesperson, to attract and retain hospital workers.

Elsewhere, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently granted a request by the American Hospital Association to delay until July 10 the implementation of a potentially far reaching National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision to establish "appropriate bargaining units" of hospital employees. (American Hospital Association v NLRB, CA 7, Nos. 89-2604, 892605, and 89-2666, 4/11/90.) The American Hospital Association, which represents some 6,000 acute care facilities nationwide, requested the stay to petition the Supreme Court to review the Seventh Circuit's decision. An American Hospital Association senior counsel said, "Since the question of what constitutes appropriate bargaining units in the health care industry has plagued the federal courts since 1974, with conflicting results, we are reasonably confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will grant the petition for the writ of certiorari, to provide a final resolution to this issue."

The NLRB decision, which was to become effective in May 1989, established eight bargaining units in acute care hospitals: registered nurses, physicians, other professional employees, medical technicians, skilled maintenance workers, clerical workers, guards, and other nonprofessional employees. (See Monthly Labor Review, August 1989, p. 52.) Two days before the rule was to be implemented, American Hospital Association obtained a preliminary injunction, issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, that halted the NLRB from implementing its rule. Two months later, American Hospital Association secured a permanent injunction from the same court.

The NLRB, joined by the American Nurses Association and the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department, seeking a reversal of the district court decision, appealed the case to the Seventh Circuit. In its opinion, the Seventh Circuit held that the NLRB's decision was an appropriate exercise of the rule-making authority granted to it under the National Labor Relations Act, that the rule did not violate the legislative intent of the act to curb the proliferation" of bargaining units, and that the NLRB was not required under Section 9(b) of the National Labor Relations Act to decide health care representation disputes on a case-by-case basis.

In addition to the American Nurses Association, seven AFL-CIO unions currently are actively organizing health care employees: Automobile Workers; Food and Commercial Workers; Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; Service Employees; State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); Steelworkers; and American Federation of Teachers. Upon hearing about the decision, AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee said, "The court's ruling clears the way for these workers to exercise their rights to form and join unions. We hope that hospitals will accept the court's decision and not waste precious health care resources in further judicial delays." John J. Sweeney, President of the Service Employees said,

For the first time in many years, hospital workers who want to be represented by a union will get fair elections."
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Title Annotation:Developments in industrial relations
Author:Cimini, Michael H.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Jul 1, 1990
Previous Article:Major agreements expiring next month.
Next Article:United Airline accord.

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