A 29-count unfair labor practices complaint brought by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against national hospital giant, Community Health Systems, Inc. and seven of its hospitals (CHS), reminds other hospital and health care systems about the need to take steps to maintain and strengthen the defensibility of their own union organizing and other labor-management relations processes as well as to prepare for the added complication the necessity of dealing with a union could present to their ability to manage already complex compliance, employment and employee benefit and other responsibilities.
The consolidated complaint announced by the NLRB today (October 19, 2015) alleges that CHS and seven wholly owned subsidiary hospitals make up a single integrated employer that has violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by engaging in a series of unfair labor practices. Specifically, the complaint claims CHS violated employee rights by, among other things: maintaining rules that infringe on employees’ rights to discuss wages, hours, and working conditions with one another and to advocate for better treatment; making statements and taking actions against employees for participating in union activities; and failing to engage in good-faith collective bargaining with the unions the NLRB says employees have selected as their exclusive collective-bargaining representatives.
The complaint involves 29 charges filed against CHS hospitals by the following NLRB Regional Offices:
- Region 8, Cleveland against Affinity Medical Center – Massillon, Ohio
- Region 9, Cincinnati against Kentucky River Medical Center – Jackson, Kentucky
- Region 10, Atlanta against Bluefield Regional Medical Center – Bluefield, West Virginia and Greenbrier Valley Medical Center – Ronceverte, West Virginia
- Region 21, Los Angeles against Fallbrook Hospital – Fallbrook, California
- Region 31, Los Angeles against Barstow Community Hospital – Barstow, California and
- Region 32, Oakland against Watsonville Community Hospital – Watsonville, California.
The consolidated complaint requests specific remedial relief, including: reimbursement for negotiation expenses; a make-whole remedy, including reinstatement, for employees who were the subject of discretionary discharges prior to any bargaining with the employees’ exclusive collective bargaining representatives; the reading and electronic transmission of a Notice to Employees; and a broad, corporate-wide cease and desist order given prior findings of serious unfair labor practices involving many of the facilities in the current matter. To avoid unnecessary delay and to conserve public and private resources, the General Counsel transferred all of these cases to Region 8, Cleveland, which issued the consolidated complaint. Absent settlement, the NLRB is scheduled to begin litigation in Cleveland on December 15, 2015.
The NLRB complaint against CHS is one of a growing number of actions where the NLRB, packed with Obama Administration appointees have gone after hospital or other health care employers as part of their broader pro-Labor agenda. See e.g., Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation of Mobile, Board Case No. 15-CA-68248 (reported at 357 NLRB No. 174) (6th Cir. decided August 15, 2013 under the name Kindred Nursing Centers East, LLC f/k/a Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation of Mobile v. NLRB).
These decisions should remind health care and other employers of the highly union-friendly bent of the NLRB under the current administration, as well as the hazards of mishandling efforts to defend against union organizing and other protected activities under the NLRA. Beyond the obligation to recognize and bargain with properly certified collective bargaining unions, the NLRB and other federal labor laws also grant employees a host of other protections. Among these are recently affirmed rights-even for a worker not represented by a union – to insist another employee be present when participating in disciplinary and certain other meetings with management, rules limit the ability of employers to prohibit or restrict employees requiring employees to keep confidential and not discuss among each other salary, wages or other terms of compensation or employment terms and conditions, and others. The Obama Administration has made known its desire to expand these rights further and has carried out an aggressive legislative, regulatory and enforcement campaign in pursuit of this goal since taking office. For this reason, health care or other organizations should seek the advice and assistance of qualified legal counsel experienced with labor management relations matters to review policies for compliance, to prepare and administer anti-organizing activities, and to evaluate and respond to union organizing or bargaining activities.
Amid these obligations and the pro-Labor enforcement attitude of the current administration, health industry organizations and their leaders must be prepared both to deal appropriately with labor-management relations organizing, bargaining and other obligations and to manage these responsibilities along with other critical compliance and operations management responsibilities. Beyond dealing with organizing and certification details, the recognition of a union also generally brings obligations for the employer to bargain on a wide range of matters. While most employers understand that this might include wages and benefits, it also includes bargaining about other terms and conditions of employment such as policies on compliance, investigations, discipline and a broad range of other concerns. For this reason, organization also can complicate compliance, risk management, financial and other critical management operations. Furthermore, union organizers and representatives often look for whistleblower or other opportunities to use compliance obligations as tools to strengthen bargaining or undermine employer credibility. For this reason, health industry and other employers targeted for organization or facing other labor-management risks should act early to tighten their compliance and manage risks in anticipation of the need to defend their actions in the event of a union organization or other action.
For More Information Or Assistance
The author of this article, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, is a Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization concurrently recognized a “Top” Health Care, Labor & Employment and ERISA/Employee Benefits Lawyer for her more than 28 years’ experience advising and defending public and private, rural and metro area hospital; health care system; nursing home; home health; rehabilitation; physical therapy; medical clinic; medical staff, physician practice group, independent practice association, and management services organization; staffing; HMOs, PPOs, ACOs, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage and other managed care organization; pharmacy; life sciences; durable medical equipment; allied health; health care technology; and other health industry clients.
As a Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law whose practice focuses on health industry clients, Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her career has included continuous involvement advising and representing health care organizations about employment, labor-management, peer review and staffing and other workforce management and compensation concerns. Ms. Stamer also continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance management and discipline; quality; governance; privacy, data security and breach; health care and other fraud prevention, risk management and defense; Medicare, Medicaid, managed care and insurance and other billing and reimbursement; safety and contagious disease; FDA; DEA; STARK, Fraud & Abuse, False Claims Act and other fraud prevention, investigation, remediation, and defense; managed care contracting and compliance; health care, insurance and other licensure and accreditation; managed care, government and other contracting and contract enforcement; antitrust; nonprofit and other general corporate and business matters and transactions; disaster preparedness and response; government audits and other enforcement; investigation and discipline; board and corporate governance; and other compliance, reengineering and change management, risk management, regulatory and government affairs, public policy and operations concerns.
Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual Technical Sessions meeting with OCR for the past five years, Ms. Stamer also is recognized for her extensive publications and programs including numerous highly regarding publications and programs on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns.
Ms. Stamer’s experience includes extensive involvement helping these and other health industry clients to establish, administer, and defend their practices and to conduct other dealings with the Department of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), Board of Medicine, Department of Insurance, NLRB, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Wage and Hour and other Labor Department, Department of Defense, Justice Department and state attorneys’ general, Department of Health and other health care industry regulators.
Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals; Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association; founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Health Policy and Project COPE: The Coalition on Patient Empowerment; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, Past Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas Board, Past Board President of the Richardson Development Center Early Child Intervention Agency (not Warren Center for Children) and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Council, the American Bar Association (ABA) and State Bar of Texas, Cindy serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Insurance Thought Leadership, Employee Benefit News, HR.com, on the leadership of the ABA JCEB Council and several ABA Sections, and in many other professional and civic organizations and educational faculties, Ms. Stamer also is a prolific and popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry, labor and employment and other related concerns. She publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns as well as conducts workshops and programs and publications on these and many other compliance, operational and risk management, and other health industry matters. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.
For more information about Ms. Stamer and her health industry or other experience, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, register here.
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