National Labor Relations Board rules in favor of Registered Nurses at Bluefield Regional Medical Center and Greenbrier Valley Medical Center

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Orders hospitals owned by giant hospital chain, community health systems, to recognize and bargain with the nurses’ union

The National Labor Relations Board has ordered Bluefield Regional Medical Center (BRMC) in Bluefield and Greenbrier Valley Medical Center (GVMC) in Ronceverte “to end their lawless behavior in refusing to bargain with its registered nurses,” according to a press release from National Nurses United.

According to the nurses’ union press release, the order, issued by the NLRB on December 16, stipulates that the hospitals must cease and desist from:

• Failing and refusing to bargain with National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC) as the exclusive collective-bargaining representative of the nurses.

• In any way interfering, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of their rights.

“We are pleased that we will now have the opportunity to sit down in negotiations and bargain for a contract that will protect our patients and our voice as patient care advocates,” said Tracey Paxton, RN, GVMC.

“It is well past time that CHS bargain with nurses at Bluefield,” said Brenda Meadwell, RN, BRMC. “As patient advocates we are committed to working with the hospital management to address our serious patient care concerns without further delay.”

Both BRMC and GVMC hospital are owned by Tennessee-based Community Health Systems/CHS, which is one of the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chains, reporting $1.5 billion in profits over the last five years.

CHS’ refusal to address nurses’ widespread concerns about patient safety at both hospitals was the driving force that galvanized RNs to organize and win representation with the NNOC in August of 2012. Since that time, both hospitals have been charged with multiple violations of federal law related to nurses’ efforts to advocate for patients and win economic and workplace fairness, the press release said.

The press release stated that in May of this year, the National Labor Relations Board held that GVMC violated federal labor law when it disciplined a nurse in retaliation for his union support. The NLRB’s finding against GVMC is consistent with the conduct of other CHS-affiliated hospitals, which has resulted in three federal court injunctions, along with several NLRB decisions finding multiple labor law violations.

RNs at both GVMC and BRMC believe that patient care at the facilities is compromised by:

• Unsafe RN-to-patient staffing ratios throughout a majority of the nursing units

• Unsafe “floating”— requiring nurses to work in units outside their area of expertise

• Lack of essential equipment such as thermometer and blood pressure cuffs

• High turnover and inability to retain experienced nursing staff

With this decision, the National Labor Relations Board can now proceed with the prosecution of several pending unfair labor practice charges filed by NNOC against Greenbrier and Bluefield. These charges allege, among other things, that the hospitals have retaliated against nurses who spoke out about patient care and staffing issues, maintained policies that interfere with nurses federal rights, made unlawful unilateral changes to nurses’ working conditions, and failed to provide information requested by NNOC.

In January 2014, A U.S. District Court Judge delivered a sweeping cease and desist injunction against another CHS-owned hospital where RNs had voted to affiliate with NNOC/NNU, Affinity Medical Center of Massillon, Ohio. The injunction cited Affinity for refusing to bargain with its registered nurses, and for engaging in repeated illegal discipline and harassment of RNs.

According to the press release,the United States Department of Justice has already joined several lawsuits that allege fraud by CHS hospitals, based in large part upon the whistle-blowing activity of former hospital employees. In addition, CHS remains the subject of class-action lawsuits, filed on behalf of shareholders, based on its questionable business practices that are still pending.