Justice for Healthcare Workers
Labor Violations charged at EMMC3/18/2006
Bangor Daily News, Front Page
BANGOR - Union officials hoping to organize about 800 workers at Eastern Maine Medical Center into the International Association of Machinists said Friday that they are pursuing a formal unfair labor practices complaint against the hospital.
Jack McKay, president of Greater Bangor Area Central Labor Council, said Friday that EMMC has violated federal labor laws by adopting policies that unfairly penalize employees who miss work because of illness. Hospital policies that restrict what kind of topics employees are allowed to discuss on the job also are illegal, he said.
McKay said he expected the complaint about the alleged violations to be filed with the National Labor Relations Board in Boston by the end of the day. He said it could take weeks for NLRB to investigate the complaint and decide whether it has merit.
Hospital employees who miss work because they get sick or because of illness in their family frequently are denied protections to which they are entitled under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, according to McKay.
He said EMMC's written rules explicitly prohibit employees from discussing union representation or similar work-related issues while they are working but do not restrict conversation about other topics that may not be germane to their immediate tasks, such as their personal lives or sporting events. It is illegal for employers to ban union talk on the job unless all nonwork-related topics are banned, McKay said.
Suzanne Spruce, spokeswoman for Eastern Maine Medical Center, declined Friday to comment about the allegations other than to say the hospital has not been notified about the complaint.
A spokeswoman with NLRB in Boston said that as of Friday afternoon the agency had not received an active unfair labor practice complaint about EMMC.
Jeff Allen, a 39-year-old materials specialist from Old Town, said Friday he sometimes reports to work at the hospital late or leaves early because he and his wife have twin autistic 5-year-old sons. He said the boys have therapy every day of the week, and, though his wife's work schedule is more flexible than his, sometimes she is unavailable to watch or transport them.
Allen said he has found that he has had to educate EMMC supervisors about his rights under the Family Medical Leave Act. He said other employees feel that they have been harassed or deterred from exercising those rights.
"I don't think that I am special," he said. "Things have been going on a little too long. There's got to be a change."
Lisa Boyington, a dialysis technician at EMMC who supports unionization, said Friday that she has felt the effect of the hospital's policies firsthand.
Not too long ago, Boyington, 39, of Milford missed about a month and a half of work while suffering from a serious ailment she declined to specify. Because she was sick, she was suspended for three days without pay - a disciplinary move that violated the Family Medical Leave Act and one the hospital later admitted was a mistake, she said.
Boyington said she received a letter Thursday from hospital officials indicating they would reverse the suspension and reimburse her for her withheld wages."It's awful," she said of the working climate at the hospital. "We support one another, but we get absolutely no support from management at all.
"Boyington said that because she supports the union organizing efforts, she has been treated rudely on the job by management. She said she has brought in pro-union material to post on an employee bulletin board only to have it thrown into the trash by her supervisors. "I think they are taking our freedom of speech away," Boyington said.She said "several" other members of her unit of 25 employees have had similar experiences on the job.
McKay acknowledged that health care facilities have special provisions that ban union-related discussions in patient treatment areas. He said eligible employees who support forming a union simply want to exercise their right to talk about work-related issues in nontreatment areas of the hospital.One such issue is EMMC's practice of having employees train new hires who make more money than they do, McKay said. The pay disparity is an issue union organizers feel is unfair, he said, but the more pressing issue is that employees cannot talk on the job about how much money they make.
"This isn't just complaining," McKay said about the organizing discussions. "This is working on solutions. This is about making it better."
The machinists union is hoping to represent nonprofessional employees at EMMC such as cafeteria and laundry workers, unit secretaries, housekeepers, certified nursing assistants and others, according to McKay. Registered nurses at the hospital already are represented by Maine State Nurses Association.