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Burbank Nurses Accuse Hospital of Delaying Union's Certification

October 17, 2002|Karima Haynes | Times Staff Writer

Registered nurses at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank alleged Wednesday that hospital administrators are trying to prevent them from organizing by delaying the certification of union election results.

The nurses went public with their assertion at a rally in front of the hospital attended by television actors Mike Farrell of "M*A*S*H" and "Providence" and Ellen Crawford of "ER.''

Farrell said he had a personal connection to the hospital and its nurses, who cared for his mother in the months before she died.

"I have been to this hospital a number of times with my mother, including a time when she broke her hip, and she was well cared for by the people here," Farrell said.

As first vice president of the Screen Actors Guild, Farrell said he believes in the concept of collective bargaining and supported the nurses' decision to form a union to meet their needs and those of their patients.

Crawford said she feels a certain solidarity with nurses because she has spent time with so many in preparing for her role as nurse Lydia Wright on "ER."

"The public has to understand that when nurses are asking for better working conditions, they are not talking about their personal comfort but the conditions of patient care within the hospital," she said.

A majority of the hospital's 518 registered nurses voted Sept. 27 and 28 to join the Service Employees International Union, said Luisa Blue, president of the union's Nurse Alliance of Southern California, which represents 100,000 registered and licensed vocational nurses.

"The working conditions are getting worse and we are forced to do more with less," said Christine Terrones, a registered nurse who has worked at the hospital for 17 years and is a member of the nurses' leadership committee to establish a union. "The union will give us more clout with the hospital, the state and the country to improve patient care."

Registered nurses contend that hospital administrators have held up certification of the election results with "frivolous challenges and objections," including voter intimidation and ballots cast by ineligible nurses.

Hospital executives deny that they have sought to delay certification of the election results. Of the 493 ballots cast, union officials challenged 51 and the hospital questioned five.

"The five ballots were challenged by us because these employees do not appear to be eligible to vote since they do not meet the minimum number of on-the-job hours as defined by the National Labor Relations Board," hospital spokeswoman Stephanie Olson said.

The union had agreed to drop its challenges, but the hospital executives declined, Blue said, adding that the union had enough votes without the challenged ballots.

The matter now goes before the National Labor Relations Board, which will examine the 56 challenged ballots. Either side can appeal the ruling.

"This challenge is not going to yield anything," Terrones said. "We have voted. We have said we want a union and they need to respect that."

Unions representing nurses, once a minor force in Southern California, have become increasingly aggressive at the largest hospitals in Los Angeles County.

About 1,700 nurses at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the largest nonprofit hospital in the West, will vote in December on whether to join the California Nurses Assn.

The same union has called for a one-day strike next week at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, where it represents 1,300 registered nurses.

Of the more than 130,000 active registered nurses in California hospitals, 41% are unionized, up from 34% in 1995, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Times staff writer Charles Ornstein contributed to this report.

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