MID-CITY — Nurses at Saint John’s Health Center kicked their labor dispute with hospital management up a notch this week, placing a billboard ad on Santa Monica Boulevard that questions their leadership’s commitment to Catholic social justice.

Nurses at Saint John’s who favor unionization have long been at odds with the hospital’s CEO, Lou Lazatin, over what they say is harassment aimed at preventing them from holding a fair election to decide whether to join the California Nurses Association.

The nurses have not been able to negotiate a fair election agreement with Saint John’s administrators and say they’ve been spied on and intimidated for holding pro-union views.

Federal law does not require the hospital to enter into a fair election agreement with the nurses, but CNA organizers say the hospital’s refusal to do so goes against principals supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The billboard ad, paid for by CNA and located near Brockton Avenue on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles, features a photo of Saint John’s nurses carrying a banner that reads “Saint John’s RNs for Safe Patient Care.” The ad also poses the question, “Catholic Social Justice Supports Nurse Unions. Why Won’t Saint John’s?”

Roy Hong, an organizing coordinator for the CNA, said the ad is intended “to let the public know that Saint John’s administration is not respecting the teachings of [the] Catholic church.”

The hospital has officially stated that there is no need for a fair election agreement because it follows federal laws meant to protect workers’ rights.

In a memo to employees on Friday, Lazatin blasted the union’s billboard ad, writing, “I am offended by the union’s unprofessional tactics to distort the truth and besmirch Saint John’s reputation.

“The union’s message on the billboard is an attempt to portray Saint John’s as not following our Catholic Social Teachings regarding employees’ rights to be represented by a third party. Worse, the union insinuates that patient care is not safe at Saint John’s.”

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Saint John’s denied administrators are working to thwart a fair election.

“We follow the basic principle that employees have a right to decide if they want or do not want union representation, free from harassment. We also believe, consistent with the Conference of Bishops, that a fair election process and organizing process is needed to ensure that employees have the ability to express their position,” the statement read.

The release went on to state that the hospital “will continue to work diligently to support and comply with the rules and guidelines that have been established by the National Labor Relations Board for more than 70 years.”

Besides not signing a fair election agreement, the nurses have said hospital administrators violated federal labor laws through their alleged campaign of harassment to prevent unionization.

They aired their allegations at a trial before the National Labor Relations Board in Los Angeles this month and are awaiting a decision in the case.


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