SAINT JOHN’S — Nurses at Saint John’s Health Center have formally petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to hold a union election, a step organizers say is a decade in the making.

Representatives filed the petition late Monday evening for the 450 registered nurses at the hospital, which is part of the Catholic Sisters of Charity Leavenworth Health System.

To move forward with the election, 30 percent of eligible nurses need to sign union cards. Those nurses must not hold supervisorial positions, which invalidates approximately 60 nurses, according to the California Nurses Association (CNA).

The labor board will then check those names against a list of nurses provided by Saint John’s, said David Monkawa, assistant director of organizing for the CNA.

A pre-election hearing will be held Tuesday, April 19 at 9 a.m. at 11150 West Olympic Blvd., according to the labor board.

Hospital representatives did not respond to inquiries by presstime.

Once the labor board verifies that the petition meets the 30 percent requirement, the two sides have to agree on an election date, as well as which categories of nurses will be allowed to vote in the election to appoint their representatives.

The hospital could choose to drag out negotiations by haggling over the various qualifications of the nurses able to vote, Monkawa said.

“We are hoping that the hospital does not go down that road and allows nurses to express their voice,” he said.

Nurses do not expect the hospital administration to allow the process to go smoothly, said Saint John’s nurse and union organizer Liz Baker-Wade.

“Nothing would make me happier than to find out I was entirely wrong, and Saint John’s allowed this process to be done fairly, morally and ethically,” Baker-Wade said.

Baker-Wade participated in an effort 10 years ago to organize the nurses at Saint John’s. That attempt failed.

Baker-Wade attributes that failure to nurses tiring of conditions at the hospital, as well as intimidation tactics that she described as “so vicious and so awful.”

“I think little by little, they got fed up,” she said. “It’s finding out that five miles west and six blocks east, nurses were getting paid better, had bargaining rights and had something to say when assignments were being made.”

Some allegations of wrong-doing by the hospital were substantiated in July 2010 after the labor board prosecuted the hospital, claiming that two managers had interrogated nurses about a petition presented to Chief Executive Officer Lou Lazatin as well as attempts to organize into a union in 2008.

A federal administrative law judge ruled in favor of the labor board and nurses, saying that Saint John’s violated federal labor laws by intimidating nurses.

At the time, the hospital defended itself in a written statement, saying that officials had merely tried to encourage nurses to find less disruptive ways to gather support for the union movement.

Nurses report that other intimidation efforts by the hospital have occurred in recent weeks.

CNA attorney Jane Lawhon filed two complaints against Saint John’s on behalf of the nurses last week.

In one instance, a pro-union nurse returned to the hospital to pick up a pair of eyeglasses, and a supervisor allegedly followed her around the building and “aggressively questioned” fellow nurses after she left, Monkawa said.

The hospital also allegedly sent a security guard to watch union organizers who were canvassing nurses on a public sidewalk outside of the hospital.

The hospital’s actions are “puzzling,” Monkawa said.

“We have asked them to have an organizing agreement, so that the hospital would be neutral and not intervene, to let the nurses decide on their own,” Monkawa said. “They have ignored it for two years. We believe that they should be complying with Catholic social teachings.”

Catholic tradition, codified in the Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church, which can be found on the Vatican website, is expressly in favor of labor organizing.

“Such organizations, while pursuing their specific purpose with regard to the common good, are a positive influence for social order and solidarity, and are therefore an indispensable element of social life,” it states.

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