PHILADELPHIA — Citing bad-faith bargaining, a Pennsylvania nurses’ union began a three-day trial Monday following a National Labor Relations Board complaint filed in April against Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.
The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals claims hospital officials have delayed and withheld pertinent information needed to assemble a contract for the union’s 450 members who work for Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.
During an all-day trial before administrative law Judge Susan Flynn, union attorney Henry Protas mostly questioned the union’s Local representative, Terry Marcavage. In her testimony, the coordinator detailed a few dozen instances during which she reached out to the hospital’s human resources executives for information, and claims she was dismissed.
The hospital’s attorney, Carmen DiRienzo, said she cannot comment amid the pending court proceedings, but hospital spokeswoman Renita Fennick said the hospital is committed to reaching a “mutually acceptable agreement with PASNAP.”
The hospital’s nurses have been working under the terms of a contract that expired last April.
It’s “incredibly unlikely” the judge will render a decision this week, one union representative said.
The union seeks what Philadelphia PASNAP representative Jerry Silberman called a “make-whole remedy.” A complaint before the labor board is not citing criminal activity, and the union seeks no punitive damages. Rather, they hope to receive the information requested and the hospital admit guilt in delaying proceedings.
The judge’s decision likely wouldn’t result in any fines against the hospital, Silberman said, though Flynn could award restoration in the form of pay or returned vacation time for employees who had to miss work for bargaining or union business.
Another complaint was rolled into the trial. Union officials allege the hospital ordered three employees to leave the sidewalk outside a Kingston outpatient branch of the hospital — or relocate to a nearby public sidewalk — while they were handing out pamphlets during a one-day strike in December.
The union believes hospital officials also should admit guilt in kicking out the employees who claim they behaved civilly in exercising their rights to protest, Silberman said.
While some information Marcavage requested was sent to her in a large file box in April, 2013, much of it was unmarked and not in order, she said. It took her months to sort through the papers, she said.
Of the salient issues, the union alleges hospital officials, namely Chief Human Resources Officer Lisa Goble and Senior Human Resources Director James P. Carmody, delayed or did not produce information including:
Records of mandated overtime shifts
Under current labor laws, hospitals cannot demand employees work overtime shifts except in times of crisis, for example natural disasters or disease outbreaks. The first must make reasonable effort to fill the shifts with other employees.
Marcavage had received nurses’ complaints the hospital was requiring mandatory overtime of nurses, and requested date from Goble on how many times nurses were asked fill overtime shifts.
“We were looking to see if the employer posted to have volunteers fill the shifts,” Marcavage said.
Goble at first agreed to provide the documents, and Marcavage went to her office to get them, she said.
“I went to pick up the information,” Marcavage said. “She said the information was ready and on her desk, but she told me she was instructed not to give it to me.”
The information would tell the union if the hospital has a staffing problem, information that would be used in bargaining.
The union is considering switching insurance providers to the hospital’s own employee health care — a benefit non-union workers have.
At the bargaining table last year, Marcavage asked Carmody for details on insurance premiums, deductibles, non-network penalties and a prescription plan cost tier, she said. Employee health care is provided by General Hospital’s parent company, Community Health Systems of Franklin, Tennessee.
“They stated that we had rejected the proposal and the information requested was no longer relevant,” Marcavage said.
The union never rejected the hospital’s insurance proposal, rather insisted the one-paragraph policy explanation was not enough information to render a decision, Marcavage said.
Make-up shift data
Marcavage received complaints that some nurses were made to make up missed shifts during times they normally wouldn’t work.
Under the old contract — which technically still is in effect — nurses must make up missed shifts on the same day the following week.
A current bed census
Marcavage wanted to determine a nurse-to-patient ratio to find if the hospital has staffing problems.
Both Protas and Marcavage admitted that between the time of the complaint and the trial, more information had surfaced, and the hospital seemed to be taking some steps toward sharing requested information.
Union workers struck for one day in December (which turned into three days because a per-diem nursing agency required at least three days for its workers), and last week they carried out a five-day strike to voice their disdain for the hospital’s alleged unfair labor practices, much of which are rooted in its withholding information, Marcavage said.
Testimony is scheduled for today and Wednesday, with most of the hospital’s testimony still ahead.
Carmody, who was at the center of much of the questioning Monday, is to testify for the hospital on Wednesday.
Despite the strike and misconduct claims, Fennick said the hospital is, in fact, working toward an amenable solution.
“As has been the case from the start, we shall continue to bargain with the union in good faith as we further our efforts to reach agreement on a new contract,” she said.