Workers rally for their rights at Flagstaff Medical Center
Nurses speak out against the health industry greed that they blame for poor patient care. Photo courtesy of David Bacon.
Hospital faces federal trial for illegal acts as workers charge administration with labor law violation
by Catherine J. Rourke
A major organizing campaign led by the National Nurses Organizing Campaign Arizona, an affiliate of the California Nurses Association, is underway at Flagstaff Medical Center, which is operated by Northern Arizona Healthcare. As the parent corporation for Sedona Medical Center, Verde Valley Medical Center and FMC, NAH has also been accused of monopoly practices by several Cottonwood and Flagstaff doctors formerly affiliated with the hospital system.
The National Labor Relations Board has indicted FMC three times in five months for ongoing illegal activity related to its attempts to break up employee unionizing efforts at the hospital. Some nurses claim that FMC has engaged in numerous anti-union tactics, including threats as well as infiltration by highly paid union-busters in the hospital's attempt to dismantle any organizing efforts.
Breaking the law
The NLRB issued its first complaint against FMC last year for penalizing nurses who testified under subpoena about the hospital’s threats of wage freezes if they voted for the union. The NLRB also found that the hospital's CEO violated the law when he swept through the hospital threatening nurses that they would lose out on future raises if they unionized.
As a result, the hospital must face trial in front of a federal administrative law judge before an election can be held. The NLRB does not conduct elections while the employer is engaged in ongoing unlawful conduct.
"FMC needs to end its serial lawbreaking, which continues even after it has been repeatedly sanctioned by the federal government,” said NNOC AZ organizer David Glenn. “Hospital officials are also compromising the well-being of the community by refusing to respect the rights of its professional caregivers to form a strong, independent union. It's time for this behavior to stop.”
A false alliance
According to the latest NLRB complaint, the hospital has created a "bogus," management-controlled union intended to subvert the ability of nurses to form their own, independent union. The so-called Alliance for Professional Nursing Excellence has begun dealing with FMC officials on issues affecting working conditions, a clear violation of federal law claims the NLRB.
Furthermore, the NLRB charged the hospital with illegal action by threatening employees with the loss of pay increases and retirement benefits if they vote to join NNOC AZ. The complaint came as a result of a thorough field investigation by labor board agents in Flagstaff involving examination of hundreds of hospital documents and talking with many nurses.
After a string of victories at the NLRB, the FMC nurses look forward to a new election - "a free and fair one this time" - in the coming weeks. According to campaigning nurses, they narrowly lost last year's vote after FMC administration waged a barrage of anti-union measures targeting the fear factor in many workers.
Threats and dirty tactics
The NLRB also alleges that FMC has “threatened its employees with loss of wage increases and benefits if they supported the union; threatened its employees with unspecified reprisals because they discussed their appraisals and other terms and conditions of employment with their fellow employees; and created an impression among its employees that their concerted activities were under surveillance.”
According to the NNOC AZ, anti-union hospitals often resort to unethical misinformation campaigns. In addition, organizers stated that FMC is spending "an enormous amount of money" to squash the organization of its workers.
Based on the nurses' testimony, a regional office of the NLRB tossed out the election and ordered a new vote. The hospital appealed the decision all the way to Washington, D.C. - a stall tactic to buy the hospital time to reach into their bag of dirty tricks one more time, the union claims.
When FMC decided to break the law again, RNs won an Unfair Labor Practice charge at the NLRB. And, in June, pursuant to a federal settlement, the head of human resources signed an admission of guilt and plan of correction that was posted in dozens of locations throughout the hospital.
Meanwhile, the nurses and other health-care workers are holding their ground and putting up a strong front. They want to negotiate a contract addressing safe patient-care policies, as well as salaries and benefits that allow the recruitment and retention of the most qualified nurses and other hospital staff.
Currently, many RNs throughout FMC are
signing unit-based petitions as way to hold
the operation accountable for patient safety and
professional nursing standards. As a result of a series of meetings and surveys, the nurses
developed a list highlighting
what they wanted at the bargaining table:
10 POINTS TO
SECURE A VOICE AND A BETTER FUTURE
RN Proposed Health-Care Plan
- Insurance that’s accepted locally
- 50% standby pay
- Prescription drug program with caps on non-covered drugs
- Full family health coverage without an additional cost to nurses
- Retiree health-care benefits
- RN-proposed fair pay and benefits
- Incentive pay with NO cancellation
- Time-and-a-half pay for weekend work
- More paid holidays off and one personal day off
- Additional RN discount program or FMC contributes into health-care savings
- Domestic partner coverage
- Standby counted as regular hours worked and count toward overtime
- Orthodontics for adults and spouses—not just children 18 and under
- A 24-hour day-care program for all employees fully funded, state-regulated, on campus
- A sick child program for all employees, fully funded on campus and staffed by bargaining
No hospital response
According to NNOC AZ, the nurses still wait for FMC to address these issues.
"We have fought hard just to have our right to a fair election,” said Nancy Swann, an RN employed at the hospital. “FMC needs to stop violating the law and honor our united voices to have our union so that we can deliver the best, safest patient care for our community. It is time for FMC to stop interfering with our rights and demonstrate the same respect and dignity for nurses that we have for our patients."
Curing the problem
Scott Ramsey, an organizer with Phoenix Local 7019 of the the Communication Workers of America, which is supporting the nurses' campaign at FMC, says that nurses are the ones who will lead the way to health-care reform.
"Nurses can help the situation immensely," Ramsey observed. "They hear the horror stories and are right in the middle of it, living and working it each and every day."
According to the nurses, universal health care "like citizens have in other industrialized nations" would eliminate the pressure for health-care profits. That would mean the diminishing of short staffing, cutting corners on patient care and other cost containment measures that make it difficult for nurses to uphold the professional standards that they are committed to.
Of course it would also mean the elimination of seven-figure salaries and six-figure bonuses for NAH's CEOs and top hospital executives who allegedly use funds for posh golf club memberships - while uninsured patient stays are shortened, according to the nurses, to make room for those with better insurance coverage. Meanwhile, the nurses - who dutifully tend the sick and the dying at all kinds of hours - lack proper health-care coverage themselves.
The need for HR 800
FMC workers' battle for union rights also points to a major flaw in our current labor laws and the decision-makers supposedly elected to serve the American people: the failure of the Senate to pass HR 800, the Employee Free Choice Act.
The EFCA would amend the National Labor Relations Act, making it easier for unions to organize employees, to require binding arbitration of first contracts after 120 days and to stiffen penalties for certain unfair labor practices.
In June the Senate voted 51-48 on whether to proceed with the debate over the EFCA. Since a minimum of 60 votes was required to end the debate and move to a vote on the bill, the Senate instead chose to deny workers their free choice to join a union. So it proceeded to other business and will probably not address HR 800 until next year.
Had the vote been otherwise, it would have empowered workers at FMC in their organizing campaign. FMC nurses represent a prime example of why American workers need the EFCA.
From allegations to solutions
Evidently there is something amiss at NAH/FMC and The Sedona Observer will be exploring both physician and nurse allegations in much further detail to report the truth about what is really going on in this hospital system.
While the NAH mission states: "To improve the health of the people and communities we serve," NLRB findings indicate that this goal does not embrace its own employees who are responsible for safeguarding and delivering the organization's mission.
If the nurses' widespread claims of improper patient ratios throughout the NAH system are correct, then a closer investigation is certainly warranted for the organization to fulfill its objectives.
Meanwhile, there is a solution: HR 676, the Medicare for All Act, currently before the U.S. Congress. HR 676 would cover everybody from the cradle to the grave, establishing a sensible and humane system of access to health care while cutting inefficiencies and promoting preventive care. For details about HR 676, read our "Soul-utions" page.
Visit http://www.calnurses.org/nnoc/arizona for more information about the ongoing situation at FMC, or contact:
4904 S Power Rd., Ste. 103-405
Mesa, AZ 85212
Catherine J. Rourke has been writing about workers rights and health care issues since the 1990s. Visit the WHO page for more information and email her at editor@SedonaObserver.com.
Worker Vigil at FMC
Health-care workers rally in front of Flagstaff Medical Center - Photo by Scott Barnes
Registered nurses from Flagstaff Medical Center recently conducted a candlelight "SiCKO Vigil" with other health-care workers and community activists at the hospital.
According to the nurses, the purpose of the vigil was to "shine a light" on the need for proper patient care and workplace rights at the facility. Employees lined both sides of Beaver Street in front of the hospital during the "Night of Unity" as part of NNOC AZ's ongoing campaign to organize FMC staff.
The event was designed to demonstrate that improving the health-care system begins with gaining a voice for health-care workers, according to organizer David Glenn. "The film has started a tidal wave soon to become a tsunami," Glenn noted. The vigil followed a screening of Michael Moore's health-care documentary, SiCKO.
"The loudest voices in the health-care debate have been the insurance companies, the drug companies and the hospitals,” said Diane Baker, a registered nurse at FMC. “We need to make our voices heard as frontline caregivers so that our patients and our communities get the care they deserve."
RNs from around Arizona greeted moviegoers in Phoenix and
Tucson over the summer to share information on how to get
involved and take action for health-care reform. (NNOC photo)
The NNOC is gaining momentum and a strong presence in Arizona as well across the nation.
It has already introduced state legislation that allows patients, nurses and health-care workers to report incidents of unsafe practices without fear of retaliation.The bill includes fines on facilities that violate the law.
The Whistleblower Protection law addresses these main points:
Free Speech - Direct-care RNs would enjoy the protected right of free speech both on and off the job.
Speech Content - The content of speech protected includes facts and circumstances of particular events, patient care practices, institutional actions, policies or conditions that may impede competent and safe nursing practice and/or patient care, adverse patient outcomes, or sentinel and/or reportable events.
Protected Speech - Protected speech includes the reporting - internally, externally, or publicly - of actions, conduct, events, practices or other matters
RN Duty and Right of Patient Advocacy - Engaging in free speech is an exercise of the direct-care RN duty and right of patient advocacy. It is presumed that the subject matter of free speech activity is of public concern and that the disclosures protected are in the public interest.
Violation of Whistleblower Rights; Fines - An acute-care hospital violating employee rights under this act shall be subject to civil penalties of $25,000. Any person (hospital employee) who willfully violates employee rights under this act shall be fined $20,000.
Organized nurses will lead the way
Approximately 90 percent of job strikes are caused by the issue of health care. The labor movement remains at the heart of the movement to protect and expand access to health care for all people while employers are eliminating coverage or abandoning health care altogether.
Dropping benefits rather than looking for solutions in everbody's interests simply represents a lack of moral responsibility. As Michael Moore says: "We're all in this together. We need to move from 'me' to 'we.'"
The unionization of America's nurses will help America build momentum for guaranteed, single-payer health care—and force corporations to grapple with the crisis. It will also provide the movement with a committed, organized, knowledgeable group of activists who are personally and professionally committed to improving patient care.
Organized nurses on the rise
Members of the
CNA/NNOC aren't just limited to California. Membership has grown in just 10 years from 17,000 to an astonishing 75,000 -
enabling the group to take a pivotal role in lobbying as a labor force on national health-care policy issues. Such growth speaks volumes about everything that's lacking in the health-care workplace as well as the dire need for both workplace and health-care reform across the board.
Organized nurses are becoming increasingly vocal about issues such as nursing practice and patient safety. They are demanding better nurse-to-patient ratios and establishing whistle-blower protections plus other reforms on the legislative level.
The CNA/NNOC is fast becoming the forerunner in advocating universal, single-payer health-care reform. As such, it has teamed up with Michael Moore and the Physicians for a National Health Plan to promote the passage of HR 676 in Washington and SB 840 in California.
Perhaps the nurses will set a precedent for other workers about the strides that can be made - on the job and in society - when people stand united as a single force.
Patient care — not paychecks
None of the local or regional nurses who reported their workplace grievances to The Sedona Observer ever mentioned pay as a primary concern. Instead, the overwhelming majority expressed sheer frustration in their inability to provide proper patient care due to an increase in hospitals' assigned patient-to-nurse ratios.
"It's just humanly impossible to tend to that many sick people at once and then do all the necessary paperwork," reports a nurse from Verde Valley Medical Center in Cottonwood, which is also managed by Northern Arizona Healthcare. "The hospital is making so much money yet it all goes into the pockets of the executives at the top who apparently don't care about their patients - or employees," she said. "Where's the humanity?"
Read nurses' and other health-care workers' stories about their everyday reality and struggles to provide care in the face of hospital industry greed in their own words: "CONDITION CRITICAL."
The POWER of RNs
Mark your calendars now to attend the
Arizona Patient Protection Act classes!
Arizona RNs are currently working on legislation to empower all nurses and health-care workers. The Arizona Patient Protection Act will allow nurses to have real protection for their profession and their patients. It will also include comprehensive legislation that will provide nurses with a voice for patient care.
Features of the bill include:
- Nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in all units of the hospital as a minimum
- Real whistle-blower protections for health-care workers to report unsafe patient care and medical cost gouging
- Staffing by patient acuity, not by numbers
- And much more
What can nurses do to introduce and pass this bill? Sign up and attend the Arizona Patient Protection Act Classes that are beginning in November:
Sedona - Thursday, November 15
Hilton Sedona Resort
Scottsdale - Wednesday, November 14
Doubletree Paradise Valley
Tucson - Tuesday, November 13.
Doubletree at Reid Park
To register, contact David Glenn: Phoenix 602-722-0060,
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Northern Arizona, contact Jennifer Lemmon at
928-255-3181 or e-mail email@example.com.
Visit http://www.calnurses.org/nnoc/arizona for more information.
READ NURSES' AND HEALTH-CARE WORKERS' STORIES HERE!
Special thanks to David Glenn of NNOC Arizona and Scott Ramsey of the Communications Workers of America for photos and information — and a special salute to all the health-care workers of Arizona for their courage and conscience.