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Nurses rally at Saint John's Tuesday after filing a complaint against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board. Nurses who unionized in May are negotiating with hospital administrators on a labor contract. (photo by Joseph Newlin)

MID-CITY — Nurses at Saint John’s Health Center said Tuesday that administrators there are purposefully delaying contract negotiations so the union formed by nurses in May can be decertified.

If a labor contract is not finalized by May of next year, those opposed to a union could file to have it dissolved. The National Labor Relations Board has a rule that a new union is given one year to represent workers before a decertification election can be held.

The California Nurses Association (CNA), on behalf of nurses at Saint John’s, filed a complaint with the board Monday charging hospital administrators with failing to “bargain collectively and in good faith” with the union, going so far as to refuse to set dates for negotiations in an attempt to exhaust the one-year certification period.

Officials with Saint John’s did not return phone calls for comment.

Nurses at Saint John’s voted in favor of joining the CNA in May after years of fighting with management for that right. The vote was 269 to 149, with some 22 challenges in the secret ballot election conducted by the board, representatives with CNA said.

CNA represents roughly 500 registered nurses at the hospital, which is part of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System based in Kansas.

Lori Hammond, a nurse who has worked at Saint John’s for over 30 years, said union representatives have met with administrators only three times and during those sessions administrators acted unprofessionally, some arriving late and others taking extended lunches.

Nurses also said the hospital has enacted “unilateral changes in working conditions” without notice to or bargaining with CNA, according to the complaint filed with the board.

Hammond said nurses so far have only talked about patient care and staffing levels and have not discussed salaries or benefits.

“Our goal is to have a contract by Christmas,” Hammond said. “By having so few bargaining dates, that is really difficult.”

Nurses are trying to include language in their contract that supports patient-nurse staffing ratios approved by the state and to include new “lift” laws to prevent injuries to nurses transferring patients.

Nurses were expected to go before the City Council Tuesday night to ask for its support.

Councilman Kevin McKeown was present Tuesday morning at a press conference called by nurses.

“Many of the issues the nurses want in their contract involve adequate nurse-to-patient ratios and patient safety,” McKeown said. “The vote for collective bargaining was a clear message, and I hope Saint John’s will now enter timely contract negotiations in good faith.”

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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