Two-day nurses union election underway

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A union election involving 650 registered nurses, charge nurses and other employees at Kalispell Regional Medical Center, the Brendan House and the HealthCenter got underway at 5:30 a.m. Thursday morning and will continue through Friday evening.

Voting closes at 5:30 p.m. on Friday and hospital and union officials say the outcome will be determined a few hours after that. The two-day secret ballot election will be supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. The union and Kalispell Regional settled on the election date soon after hospital Chief Executive Officer Craig Lambrecht was hand-delivered a note by a group known as the KRH Organizing Committee June 13, announcing a petition had been filed for union recognition.

Since the date was agreed upon, both the employer and the union, Service Employees International Union 1199NW, have been vying for votes. But the window for campaigning is quickly coming to a close and while there may be speculation about the outcome of the vote, experts say there is no efficient or reliable way to predict the outcome of a union election.

That outcome, however, will be determined by a majority vote. Although 650 employees make up the voting body, no one is required to participate. Therefore, if only a small number of those employees vote, it will still be the majority vote from that portion that determines unionization. Throughout the campaign, the union and the employer have not been allowed to make false promises or threats to employees and could not misrepresent the unionization process.

The campaign efforts on both sides have been extensive, with officials holding informational sessions and meetings, union representatives making phone calls, and more.

Hospital officials recently launched an informational website, krhunionfacts.com, where visitors can also find election details and answers to various questions surrounding the two-day event and what is to come after the votes are tallied.

On that website is a letter from Lambrecht, who has elaborated that the forming of a union could spell an end to the hospital’s independence. In the letter he described the week of the election as “the most important week since my arrival at KRH just a short while ago.” The site delves into the stance taken by hospital officials regarding unionization, stating simply, “there are no problems we cannot resolve together, without the involvement of a third party like the SEIU.”

The union also recently shared an informational flier detailing the organizing committee’s reasons for seeking unionization. “We welcome that 2019 is a year of new beginning and that we have new leadership. Our union will promote a fresh start and a renewed relationship with our administration,” a portion of the document reads.

The purple and yellow flier also references the hospital’s $24 million whistleblower lawsuit settlement from the fall of 2018 — an outcome that has been a point of frustration for many looking to unionize. The union flier notes “changes in leadership and legal settlements requiring millions in resources that could have been invested in patient care and staff. While our hospital took a hit, the pay of many of our executives did not.” It then continues, “one of the reasons many of us reached out and supported forming a union is because we were frustrated with poor financial decisions that took money away from patients and staff.”

The time slots and voting locations are as follows:

• Thursday (today) at Kalispell Regional Medical Center Campus, Mariposa Conference Room from 5:30a.m. to 8:30a.m., 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

• Friday at Eureka Health in Eureka from 8 to 8:30 a.m.; at Home Options in Libby from noon to 1 p.m., and at Kalispell Regional Medical Center Campus, Mariposa Conference Room from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com.

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