U.S. Court of Appeals Issues Scathing Judgment Against Big Hospital Chain, Ordering CHS to Repay Union Costs for ‘Willful’ Failure to Bargain with RNs

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U.S. Court of Appeals Issues Scathing Judgment Against Big Hospital Chain, Ordering CHS to Repay Union Costs for ‘Willful’ Failure to Bargain with RNs

WASHINGTON - The District of Columbia-based U.S. Court of Appeals issued a rare, scathing order to the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain, Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, requiring it to repay all of a union’s costs incurred in efforts to bargain a contract for registered nurses at a San Diego hospital.

Writing for the court May 8, Senior Judge Harry Edwards, the court’s former Chief Judge, rejected CHS’ Fallbrook Hospital’s appeal of an April, 2014, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that Fallbrook acted in an “obstinate and pugnacious” manner in unlawfully refusing to bargain with nurses represented by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United.

The hospital’s behavior was found to be so egregious, it was not only directed to negotiate in good faith, but also to repay what Judge Edwards termed “economic resources wasted by the Union in a futile pursuit of a collective bargaining agreement” as a result of CHS’ “willful defiance of its statutory obligations.”

CHS and Fallbrook showed their contempt for the court, says CNA, by taking the draconian step of closing the hospital. Instead of respecting the rights of the RNs and accepting their democratic choice to form a union, CHS and Fallbrook terminated all staff, and then appealed the decision ordering them to repay the RNs’ bargaining costs.

Judge Edwards blasted CHS’ arguments against paying negotiating costs as “not only meritless, it reflects real chutzpah,” a Yiddish term which Edwards noted, in legal terms, is the equivalent of “a young man, convicted of murdering his parents, who argues for mercy on the ground that he is an orphan.”

Ultimately, Judge Edwards noted, Fallbrook had “cherry-picked the record” to present its defenses. In fact, the NLRB’s 2014 decision “rests on the Hospital’s entire record of unfair labor practices which in this case is quite extensive. The Board found that the totality of Fallbrook’s misconduct justified the remedy.”

“CHS is probably the most arrogant, and lawless employer in the healthcare industry,” said NNU co-president Karen Higgins, RN, today. “This welcome decision, along with a recent NLRB decision and jury verdict for a heroic Ohio CHS RN, Ann Wayt, illegally fired by another CHS hospital, are an indication of what RNs seeking to improve patient care standards in CHS hospitals have had to endure. NNU will never stop fighting for RNs’ ability to advocate for their patients and their own rights.”

In a striking parallel to the Fallbrook case, on April 30, the National Labor Relations Board affirmed a labor board law judge’s decision ordering CHS’ Affinity Medical Center to reimburse Wayt for expenses she incurred responding to Affinity’s unlawful attempt to have the Ohio Board of Nursing revoke her RN license after she was fired by Affinity for supporting union organizing efforts by NNU’s Ohio affiliate, National Nurses Organizing Committee-Ohio. Wayt subsequently won a $2 million court judgment against Affinity-CHS for its brazen defamatory attacks on her.

Further, the NLRB took the additional unusual step of ordering a top Affinity official to actually read aloud to assembled employees, in the presence of an NLRB official, the Board’s order to cease and desist its multiple violations of labor law and the RNs’ rights, including threats of physical violence and discipline against union supporters.

And, the Board issued a stern warning to the high-handed CHS lead attorney Donald Carmody, as well as other CHS lawyers, that they faced potential disciplinary proceedings if they continued submitting non-meritorious defenses to justify lawless CHS behavior in flagrant disregard of employee rights.

CHS has also been reprimanded for violations of federal labor law at other hospitals represented by NNU affiliates in California and West Virginia.

CHS’ Barstow Community Hospital, in Barstow, Ca., has also petitioned the DC Court of Appeals for review of an NLRB decision mirroring the Fallbrook case that also ordered the hospital to repay nurses and the union for negotiating expenses in the face of similar willful refusal to bargain in good faith and other violations of labor law. The case is pending and may be set for argument in the fall.

Meanwhile, in Fallbrook, the Fallbrook Hospital District still owns the vacant building, while two nearby district hospitals have examined ways to restore an acute care facility to the rural northern San Diego County community. CNA still has other charges of violations of labor law pending against Fallbrook/CHS.

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National Nurses United, with close to 185,000 members in every state, is the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in US history.

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