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November 16, 2018

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MountainView resists nurses’ organizing bid

Backers of Calfornia-based union say hospital needs minimum staffing requirements

After striking a truce with a rival union, the California Nurses Association is expanding its reach in the Las Vegas Valley by trying to organize nurses at MountainView Hospital.

Early signs are that the union is in for a fight.

In March, after a yearlong battle, the California-based union took over from the Service Employees International Union representation of 1,100 nurses at the three St. Rose Dominican hospitals. In return, the nurses association ceased its efforts to replace the SEIU at other Las Vegas hospitals.

MountainView Hospital is fair game for the CNA, however, because its nurses are not organized. Union leaders say they have won the loyalty of many of the 425 nurses at the hospital, which is owned by the Tennessee-based chain Hospital Corporation of America.

Last week about 30 nurses and union officials tried to meet with MountainView CEO Will Wagnon. He agreed to meet with two of them but called on hospital security personnel to escort the others out of his office, according to a nurse who participated. Wagnon refused the union’s request to remain neutral while they try to organize.

In a flier to the staff, Wagnon wrote that it’s in the nurses’ best interest to communicate directly with administrators, not through a union.

“The CNA wants its voice to be heard on this important issue, a voice that makes grandiose promises and so-called guarantees to induce nurses at our hospital to sign union cards,” Wagnon wrote.

The voice of the administration “will not be silenced,” he wrote.

Two days later the CNA filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to allow nurses to vote on union representation by secret-ballot election.

Lisa Morowitz, a national coordinator with the CNA, said the efforts at the hospital started loosely about 18 months ago, when the union focused on organizing within the HCA hospital chain. Efforts grew more serious at MountainView in recent months, she said.

In October, MountainView was almost decertified by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services because of infection control problems, according to reports by state health officials. Inspectors found blood on the floor of a lab, a physician assistant contaminating equipment with a bloody glove and no system in place to track whether patients had picked up an infection after undergoing outpatient endoscopy or cardiac catheterization procedures. MountainView issued a corrective action plan and saved its Medicare certification.

“Nurses have become increasingly concerned about patient care standards,” Morowitz said.

One of the primary problems, she said, has been the staffing levels, which have “eroded to the point where they feel their patients are in jeopardy and their licenses are in jeopardy.”

One of the hospital’s registered nurses, Orsburn Stone, said he’s been leading the efforts to unionize because staffing levels have created unsafe conditions. For example, he said nurses in the intensive care unit have been expected to handle three patients at a time, one more than they can care for safely. Staffing levels in other units have also been unsafe, he said.

Stone also said hospital administrators don’t allow nurses to have representation when they face discipline. A nurse was denied her request to be represented by her lawyer daughter at a disciplinary hearing, he said.

“They’re trouncing on people’s legal and constitutional rights,” Stone said. “They have gotten away with it for years.”

Hospital officials declined to be interviewed Monday, but issued a statement: “The decision about whether or not to be represented by a labor union is an important choice and we are committed to providing the facts to our nurses. We believe that once our nurses know the truth about the California Nurses Union, and its organizing failures inside and outside of California, they will choose to remain union free.”

The CNA started in 1993 with about 17,000 members and claims credit for achieving mandatory nurse staffing ratios in California. It now represents about 86,000 nurses, and through an alliance with two other unions nationally, represents about 150,000 nurses. MountainView would be its first organizing victory in Las Vegas, but the union does represent about 500 nurses at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno.

The National Labor Relations Board is working with both parties to set an election date. A hearing is set for Friday in case there are issues to address, Labor Relations officials said.

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