Thursday, August 05, 2021
79.0°F

Nurses file petition to break ties with SEIU

by MATT BALDWIN
Daily Inter Lake | June 1, 2021 12:00 PM

Logan Health nurses opposed to unionization filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday seeking to hold a vote to end the nurses' relationship with SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.

An informal group calling itself Nurses and Community Unite claimed more than 40% of Logan Health nurses have signed an electronic petition to hold a decertification election, exceeding the 30% threshold required by the labor board.

"We believe that the SEIU no longer has majority support and only through a NLRB election can we end this relationship," said Shelly Olbert, a registered nurse speaking on behalf of the anti-union group.

Logan Health nurses unionized with SEIU on Tuesday began a three-day strike after bargaining efforts failed to produce a union contract. The union, formed in July 2019, has been negotiating for a contract for the last year and a half, calling for increased staffing, reinstating a charge nurse on every unit, a nurse staffing committee, and improvements to wages and benefits.

According to the National Labor Relations Board, when a decertification election petition is filed, agents investigate to make sure the board has jurisdiction and there are no existing labor contracts that would bar a decertification vote. Agents then seek an agreement between the employer, the union and other parties setting the date for the decertification election. The labor board would be tasked with conducting the vote that would be decided by a majority of votes cast.

Shiela Stencel, another Logan Health registered nurse with Nurses and Community Unite, said the petition had been circulating for several weeks, but many nurses have signed on in the last 10 days. She said the group hopes the decertification election will be held within a month.

Meanwhile, SEIU has accused Logan Health management of "intensive efforts to weaken the nurses' resolve to stand together as a union," and noted investigations underway by the NLRB. Records on file with the labor board show two open cases filed by SEIU against Logan Health.

"The NLRB is currently investigating the retaliatory termination of a union nurse, and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW has filed more than 10 other unfair labor practice charges against Logan Health for its illegal union-busting efforts," the union said in a news release last Thursday.

STENCEL SAID the concerns raised by the nurses union regarding staffing, benefits and pay aren't without merit, but that SEIU is doing more damage than good in its bargaining efforts.

"Obviously, there are concerns we have compassion for as nurses. However, we think there is a better way that isn't so divisive. The mudslinging and bullying has torn the nurses apart," Stencel said. "We don't need a third party from Seattle. We can meet with the administration … and have an open discussion."

Stencel also believes the union is making some unreasonable demands, particularly the request for greater staffing ratios that the hospital contends are already above industry norms.

"A lot of things they are asking for will be difficult to have them granted," she said, adding she has "no gripes" about her pay and benefits.

The anti-union group also includes Amy Regier, a registered nurse at Logan Health who recently finished her first legislative session as a Republican state representative. In a statement provided by Nurses and Community Unite, Regier asserted nurses have actually missed out on pay increases and other benefits because of the union.

In March, the hospital system announced $11 million in pay raises and benefit enhancements for non-union employees. Several months earlier, the health-care system invested more than $7 million in wage increases that excluded the unionized nurses.

"We love our nurses and believe the SEIU has a political agenda that is not in their best interest," Regier said.

EARLIER THIS week, Nurses and Community Unite announced a formal complaint was filed against SEIU with the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Labor Management and Standards, alleging union leaders inappropriately pressured members to vote for their desired outcome.

The complaint filed by a registered nurse states: "The coercive atmosphere in the balloting area was blatant in order to get the outcome the SEIU wanted." The complaint requests the Office of Labor Management and Standards open an investigation into the union's conduct and nullify the strike election.

A Labor Department spokesperson said the agency could "neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation."

Managing editor Matt Baldwin may be reached at 406-758-4447 or mbaldwin@dailyinterlake.com