Management at Saint John's Health Center was found guilty of illegal union busting. Nurses rallied at the hospital on Thursday, calling on management to allow them to hold an election to see if colleagues favor a union. Councilman Kevin McKeown (far right) joined with the nurses, saying 'Union busting is disgusting.'

(photo by Kevin Herrera)

MID-CITY — Bolstered by a federal judge’s ruling that Saint John’s Health Center engaged in illegal union busting, nurses at the hospital on Thursday staged a rally there demanding they be allowed to hold an election to determine if a union is favored by a majority of caregivers.

For years, nurses at Saint John’s have fought with management for the right to hold an election. By forming a union, the nurses hope to have more control over patient care — including the number of nurses assigned to a particular floor — and compensation so that the hospital can attract and retain quality registered nurses.

Nurses claim administrators have, since 2008, illegally interrogated them, barred off-duty employees from campaigning for the union effort and have threatened to arrest them. Nurses said they were prohibited from wearing ribbons stating, “Saint John’s RNs for Safe Patient Care.”

Last month, a federal administrative law judge ruled in favor of the nurses and the National Labor Relations Board, saying Saint John’s violated federal labor laws. The judge ordered Saint John’s to stop harassing and intimidating nurses and to post, by July 17, a document at the hospital stating the nurses have the right to organize.

“It takes courage to stand up to your employer and that’s what we had to do,” during the trial, which took place in March, said Lori Hammond, a nurse with nearly 31 years experience at Saint John’s.

“Management has attempted to create a culture of fear to keep our colleagues from supporting the union,” Hammond added. “Today, we are not afraid. Our management was found guilty. We are clearly within our rights to stand up for ourselves. It’s the right thing to do and we won’t give up.”

Representatives from Saint John’s said in a statement they have asked nurses in favor of joining the California Nurses Association to “modify” their activities after trying to “disrupt activities at the hospital,” and are planning to file an appeal.

“We need to balance the interest of those employees who may support the union and those who do not want to lose their rights and pay dues,” a statement from the hospital said. “We also have a responsibility to ensure patients and their families do not have to face additional angst and concern above what they are already experience at a difficult time in their life. The union filed [complaints] against certain actions we took to try to maintain this equilibrium.”

Nurses were joined on Thursday by representatives from various unions and Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown, and have support from state Assemblywoman Julia Brownley and state Sen. Fran Pavley, who both represent Santa Monica.

McKeown, who stood by hotel and grocery workers during their efforts to unionize and maintain wages and benefits during the last 12 years, said he is supportive of the nurses at Saint John’s who want to unionize and called on the hospital to play fair.

“Union busting is disgusting,” McKeown said as roughly 20 nurses stood near the hospital holding banners, one reading “Saint John’s Management Guilty.”

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