Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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George Washington University Hospital broke the law by engaging in regressive bargaining with unionized workers and improperly withdrawing recognition of the union, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled. However, the hospital disputes this and is appealing the decision. 

The union, 1199SEIU, represents 150 full- and part-time employees who work in various departments at GW Hospital. Workers had been negotiating with the hospital for over two years after its latest five-year contract expired in Dec. 2016.

After missing annual pay increases the following two years and recognizing that reaching an agreement on a contract would be unlikely given management’s actions at the negotiating table, 1199SEIU filed a complaint of unfair labor practices with NLRB. Last week, the NLRB agreed with the union: GW Hospital broke labor law. Universal Health Services, the operator of GW Hospital, is the top contender to run the only hospital east of the Anacostia River once United Medical Center closes. 

“The Hospital has violated Section 8(a)(5) and (1) of the [National Labor Relations Act] by bargaining in bad faith during negotiations with no intention of reaching a successor collective-bargaining agreement,“ writes administrative law judge Michael Rosas in his Sept. 4 decision, after the case was tried in June 2019. 

Rosas goes on to write that the hospital engaged in bad faith and regressive bargaining by pushing non-starters like adding a no strike provision; removing “just cause” language, thus opening the for the hospital to discipline employees without cause; expanding the management’s rights clause, including the hospital’s right to change rules governing employment without limit; and giving the hospital unfettered discretion over wages. 

He also agrees with 1199SEIU that 81 workers signed a petition to remove the union only after the hospital engaged in bad-faith negotiations that led members to lose faith in the cause. The legal brief also includes an account of an employee who was effectively bribed to circulate the petition. 

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“While soliciting coworkers to sign the petition, [Eugene Smith] lauded Kim Russo, the Hospital’s chief executive officer, and told them that they would get a pay raise and travel stipend if they got rid of the Union,” according to the legal filing. The judge notes he does not view Smith as a very credible witness so does not credit his testimony that “everybody wanted to sign” the petition.

“That’s union busting at its best,” says 1199SEIU Vice President Yahnae Barner. “Union busting is bad for workers and patients. It gives management the power to make all employment decisions without workers like health care benefits, hours, and patient-care ratios … an overworked and underpaid caregiver and an understaffed hospital is not well equipped to provide the best care,” she adds. 

1199SEIU never had to file a complaint with NLRB since GW Hospital first recognized its union in December 1997, Barner says. Prior to the last, no one from UHS ever participated in negotiations, she adds. That’s why she and others are concerned about the possibility of UHS operating the new hospital once Southeast D.C.’s only hospital, UMC, closes; UMC has four unions. While UHS is expected to operate the new hospital, slated to open in 2023, nothing is finalized. 

“We knew all along that Universal Health Services has been engaged in surface bargaining and not intending whatsoever to recognize the union, and we made that clear to District officials,” says Ed Smith, who is with D.C. Nurses Association. “As of right now, if a new hospital is built and UHS is the partner who’s going to operate it, they made it clear they don’t have an intention to provide successorship to the employees in the unions who clearly represent UMC.”  

UHS did not immediately respond to City Paper‘s request for comment. But GW Hospital says it will appeal this ruling. 

“George Washington University Hospital disagrees with the ruling of the Administrative Law Judge on this matter. We dispute and deny all the allegations made by the union and believe the evidence presented at the trial demonstrated our good faith efforts and compliance with the NLRA,” says Christine Searight, marketing and communications director at GW Hospital.  

“GWUH respects the rights of its employees to join a union as well as their rights to withdraw recognition of the union. It is disappointing that union leadership would not accept the will and clearly expressed desire of a majority of their members to leave the union.”  

Once the case is appealed, it goes to the NLRB board, who has five members and whose chairman is a President Donald Trump-appointed member. If the board’s decision is appealed, that goes before the U.S. Court of Appeals. 

“If the ruling is overturned on appeal, it won’t be because of the facts and merits. It will only prove Trump has stacked the NLRB with anti-union members,” says Barner.  

Meanwhile, 1199SEIU is contemplating filing a separate complaint because Barner says GW Hospital is intimidating workers by not allowing union representatives on the premises to communicate with members. The hospital did not respond to City Desk’s inquiry, asking if this is true.   

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