MIDTOWN — Nurses working at Saint John’s Health Center will have the opportunity to vote next month on whether or not they want to unionize, the National Labor Relations Board reported Friday.

Representatives of Saint John’s and the California Nurses Association (CNA) signed a stipulated election agreement, approved by the labor board’s regional director, which dictates the kinds of employees that are eligible to vote as well as the time and date of the election.

Had the two sides not signed by the end of Friday, they would have had to report to the labor board for a pre-election hearing Monday to hammer out the details.

Officials with Saint John’s could not be reached for comment.

The agreement provides for a secret ballot election to be held on May 25 and 26 for the nursing unit. Full time, regular, part time and per diem registered nurses employed by Saint John’s will be allowed to vote.

“I think it’s very positive,” said David Monkawa, assistant director of organizing for the CNA.

A simple majority — 50 percent plus one of the cast ballots — will be needed to approve the union.

If the pro-union nurses win in May, all registered nurses at the hospital will receive three major benefits, Monkawa said.

First, Saint John’s will be legally obligated to sit down with members of the new union to negotiate a contract “in good faith.”

“Right now, they could yell until they’re blue in the face that they want to negotiate and the employer could say, ‘Take a hike,’” Monkawa said.

Second, the nurses would become “just cause” employees rather than their current designation of “at will” employees. That makes it harder for the hospital to fire individual nurses without showing a great deal more proof that they ought to be let go.

Finally, the hospital would no longer have the right to make unilateral changes without first consulting the nurses.

“You can see, the nurses would have a little more power than they have now, a little more democracy and more rights,” Monkawa said.

Nurses at Saint John’s won the opportunity to vote on April 11 when they turned in cards to the labor board proving that 30 percent of nurses supported holding a vote.

This isn’t the first time nurses at Saint John’s have tried to organize. They held a vote in 2002, but failed to reach the 50 percent plus one margin of victory.

Some blame that loss on intimidation tactics, like those Saint John’s was found guilty of committing in a July 2010 court decision.

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 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.

According to Joseph Fahey, chair of Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice and professor of religious studies at Manhattan University, it’s the duty of a Catholic organization like Saint John’s to support its nurses in their attempt to organize.

“We stand in strong support for the nurses who wish to organize at Saint John’s. They have the weight of centuries of Catholic Social Teaching on workers’ rights and labor unions behind them,” Fahey wrote in an e-mail. “We call on the Catholic Sisters of Charity Leavenworth Health System not only to support but to encourage their nurses to form a labor union.”

ashley@www.smdp.com

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