www.SedonaObserver.com
Sedona, Arizona
October 21, 2007

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.

RN proposal

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

Benefits:
- 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 unit RNs

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:

NNOC Arizona
4904 S Power Rd., Ste. 103-405
Mesa, AZ 85212

480-888-9758

Whistleblower Hotline:
1-800-496-0213

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."


Raising Arizona's

NURSES

                http://img.getactivehub.com/dawn/custom_images/cna_facilities_email/AZ_sicko_062907.gif

                          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:

  1. Free Speech - Direct-care RNs would enjoy the protected right of free speech both on and off the job.
  2. 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.
  3. Protected Speech - Protected speech includes the reporting - internally, externally, or publicly - of actions, conduct, events, practices or other matters
  4. 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.
  5. 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,

                                                     Tucson 520-326-4690

or e-mail dglenn@calnurses.org.

In Northern Arizona, contact Jennifer Lemmon at 928-255-3181 or e-mail jlemmon@calnurses.org

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.

 

 

 

 

READ NURSES' AND HEALTH-CARE WORKERS' STORIES HERE!

Michael Moore supports workers and health reform in California

                                                                  Photo by David Bacon

Michael Moore recently descended on the California Capitol in Sacramento to show his film SiCKO and advocate for single-payer health-care reform as well as SB 840.

Members of the California Nurses Association invited Moore to join their rally for better working conditions and patient care. The CNA has been campaigning for a single-payer system for years. The CNA protest represents one of just many taking place in California as the state gears up to address health-care reform for all citizens.

Moore later testified at an unofficial legislative briefing inside the California State House with these stirring words:

       

                                                                Photo by David Bacon

The American people are fed up with this broken health care system. And it, of course, it is the nurses who are on front lines of this war. It is a war. It is a war against greed. It is a war against health insurance companies who are more interested in lining their pockets than caring for the people of the United States of America. And you, as nurses and doctors, you see this every single day.

You see the effects of what happens when a hospital, that is owned by some corporation, someplace nowhere near the town you're in, that's controlled by health insurance companies that make decisions about whether or not you can treat the patients that you're there to care for.

You see the effects of what happens when a hospital, that is owned by some corporation, someplace nowhere near the town you're in, that's controlled by health insurance companies that make decisions about whether or not you can treat the patients that you're there to care for.

There is no way that we can continue to have these health insurance companies making these decisions. Nor should we have private profit-making hospitals making decisions. The hospital that has to make a decision based on the bottom line as to whether or not to provide care, this is absolutely antithetical to human rights. And we're the only country in the western world that doesn't believe it is a human right to provide free universal health coverage for every one of its citizens. What is wrong with us?

That is an immoral question, in a humane society, to ask that question: Where is the profit here? How will it affect our bottom line? How do we make money off this sick person?

There is no room for compromise here. There is no room for the health insurance company in an emergency room. There is no room for a health insurance company in a hospital room. There is no room for them in the executive headquarters of their own companies, because I believe that we have to eliminate the private health insurance companies from our health care system. We have to get rid of 'em once and for all. It is time for them to go!

Because there should never be room for the word "profit" when you are trying to make a decision whether or not to provide somebody care when they get sick. You can never allow this to happen.

I sincerely hope that California will take the lead, as you have done so often in the past when the rest of the country has to be brought along kicking and screaming. It was you that decided people shouldn't be paid $5.15 an hour as a minimum wage. That was this state.

It was this state that said we have to protect our environment and demand that the automakers put devices on cars that cut down on pollution and global warming. That was this state.

You have done so many other things like this. Lead the way again for this country. Be a shining beacon of light for what America has to do. Remove profit, remove the insurance companies from this. Regulate the pharmaceutical companies like a public utility. Strictly regulate them and guarantee health coverage for all Americans and all the people in the state. Thank you very much.

 

                                                                    Photo by David Bacon

 

Arizona AFL-CIO endorses HR 676

The Arizona AFL-CIO voted to support HR 676 during its recent state convention in Phoenix. Delegates from around the state unanimously resolved to work with their affiliates and community groups to support action for single-payer universal health care, as well as to encourage their representatives in Washington to support the bill.

Arizona AFL-CIO Executive Director Rebekah Friend stated: "Our country is in a health-care crisis and we must take a bold step in embracing comprehensive health care and fight for expanding and improving Medicare for all. 

"Union members are in the front line of the health-care crisis and we will work with Congress to make health care a fundamental right for every American," she said. "No family should have to decide what to do when faced with a medical crisis. We all have heard the horror stories; it is time we demand health care for all."

               

 

              

 

California Dreaming  with SB840

State legislators have proposed a bill that could provide a solution for California's health-care woes - and Moore's dream to banish private health companies.

The California Health Insurance Reliability Act, (CHIRA), or SB840, aims to provide a single standard of quality health care to all Californians on a fiscally sound, affordable basis. It would give every Californian the right to choose his or her own physician while monitoring inflating health costs and providing reliable coverage.

Under CHIRA, eligibility is based on residency instead of employment or income and every single state resident would be covered. Nobody would ever again lose his or her health insurance because of unaffordable premiums, changing or losing a job, attending school or due to a pre-existing medical condition.

The plan requires no new spending on health care. The system will be paid for by federal, state and county monies already being spent on health care and by affordable insurance premiums that replace all premiums, deductibles, out-of-pocket payments and co-pays now paid by employers and consumers.

Health care: "a sinking ship"

California State Senator Sheila Kuehl, has sponsored SB840. Polls suggest that more than half of the state's residents approve of the bill as long as it remains government-operated and excludes insurance companies from participating.

Comparing the current health-care system to the Titanic, the Democratic senator criticized some state-proposed health measures as nothing more than "rearranging the deck chairs." Kuehl noted that the Titanic sank because the ship had tried to turn rather than “facing the iceberg head on,” which would have at least kept it afloat longer and saved more lives.

"If you take the insurance companies out of the system - and they are the only entity that adds no value at all to the provision of health care - the overall costs for health care in California drop $19 billion in the first year alone," Kuehl said. "That's simply because we're finally not paying their inflated overhead and profit."

For more information about SB840 and to read the bill's full text, visit http://www.sen.ca.gov/kuehl.

Health care versus health insurance

That's what workers and citizens are asking for. Yet the media continues to downplay the public protests, such as the fact that more than 1,000 registered nurses stormed the Capitol in Sacramento last month in what has been described as "one of the most dramatic and militant protests in recent history."

Public outcry still wasn't enough to stop politicians from selling out patients and rewarding their insurance industry donors with a major financial boon, in the latest step of a complex health-care dance orchestrated by and for Calif. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Despite these protests, the California Senate just voted to send its governor a pro-insurance "faux" health-care reform bill that nurses and health-care activists have been working hard to kill.  

This will inevitably send more patients to the insurance industry, giving them more revenue and influence over medical decisions while subjecting more patients to runaway costs, forcing them to beg for health care from corporations that make huge profits by denying it.

What does the California situation mean for Arizona and the rest of that nation? While Gov. Schwarzenegger states that everyone should have health insurance, he is not implying the need for universal health care.

Rather, his program represents universal insurance. This would take the health-care responsibility out of the government's hands and place it in the control of runaway insurance companies, according to many health-care activists.

What's critical is that California health-care reform could set a dangerous precedent by allowing the private, corporate insurance industry to control the parameters for health-care reform.


Workers' Toolbox

Got an issue at work? Feel you've been wrongly terminated? Afraid you'll lose your job if you speak out? Don't know where to turn for assistance?

The U.S. Department of Labor can answer your questions about wage and hours, termination, unemployment, the Family Medical Leave Act and much more.

Here are the 10 most important numbers you'll ever need:

Arizona Call Center:

(602) 514-7033

Toll free: (866) 487-2365

Wage and Hour: (866) 487-9243

 

National Call Center:

(866) 487-2365

Mon-Fri., 8 a.m - 8 p.m., EST

or visit

http://www.dol.gov


WHERE TO FIND HELP

An ER for Nurses!

 

California Nurse's Association and the

National Nurses

Organizing Committee

http://www.calnurses.org/nnoc

(800) 540-3603

 

Unsafe Patient Care Hotline

Report unsafe conditions at:

(800) 496-0213

Contact David Glenn: 

Phoenix 602-722-0060,

Tucson 520-326-4690

or e-mail dglenn@calnurses.org 

In Northern Arizona,

contact Jennifer Lemmon at
928-255-3181

or e-mail jlemmon@calnurses.org 

 


 

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