Hospital workers file bad faith bargaining charges against NIHD
Union asserts NIHD is prioritizing temporary staff over locals
Registered nurses and patient care and technical workers, who have been in bargaining with the Northern Inyo Healthcare District administration since July, held an informational picket on Line Street in front of hospital Friday after they filed unfair practice charges against the district the week prior because of “the district’s refusal to bargain in good faith.”
Both contracts expire on Monday. The charges describe the district’s behavior as “surface bargaining,” essentially pretending to go through the motions without fulfilling its good faith obligations under California Law.
According to a release from the Eastern Sierra American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents the workers, the district has rejected outright all of the union’s financial proposals, asking employees to extend their contract with no cost of living increase while failing to respond to critical aspects of the union’s financial information requests.
For example, the district has refused to give the union a full accounting of the federal monies it received in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Information that has been given contained a number of discrepancies which the district has not explained to the union’s satisfaction. In the past, when the district has proven financial hardship, union members have been flexible about the financial elements of their proposals. However, to agree to wage freezes, the union needs to see clear evidence of financial distress, according to AFSCME.
The district is also refusing to bargain in good faith on the union’s non-financial proposals, rejecting outright nearly all of the union’s language proposals.
“Some of the district’s responses show clear antiunion animus,” the union states.
However, in a statement released by NIHD on Friday, the district maintains that the district “values and respects all district employees and their right to hold and participate in an informational picket.”
The district states that it entered into negotiations with the registered nurses and patient care and technical workers with its value for district employees at the forefront, and complied with its obligation to bargain in good faith, including but not limited to, providing responses to all proposals.
“The district’s proposals to the employees were guided by the principle of responsible governance and based on its current financial circumstances,” the district stated. “The district will continue to engage in this process in good faith.”
AFSCME claims the district is insisting on continuing to ask union employees to sign off on policies stating that they are “at will.” According to Rural Health Clinic Medical Assistant and Bargaining Team Member Kaylyn Rickford, “The current attendance policy is forcing us to choose between taking care of sick children and accumulating occurrences for not being at work.”
The administration has also rejected a proposal to support employees furthering their health care education with more flexible scheduling.
“We want the district to understand that as care givers, employees and their families also deserve care. We want them to show us respect, to recognize that we are hardworking employees that want to stay in the area and want to work at Northern Inyo Hospital because we are committed to our community,” explained Rickford.
According to the district’s own financial presentation, the union cited, its reliance on outside traveler corporations for temporary staff is its biggest problem. In bargaining, the district presented a graph showing the increase of spending on travelers from $2.3 million in 2020 to $4. 4 million in 2021 to $8.8 million in 2022 for all classifications of travelers. In the OR, the district is paying $200/hour for traveling RNs working at straight time.
Rather than working together with employees to find solutions, the district “is continuing down a path which prioritizes travelers over retaining local staff.”
“Northern Inyo has a history of not regularly adjusting wages for cost of living, then having to give larger increases to play catch up with those that do,” according to the union. “Since last year, employees have fallen behind an additional 8% due to inflation.”
The union noted that currently, an RN must work at Northern Inyo for seven years before reaching the bottom of the RN range at Mammoth Hospital. This has resulted in many employees going to Mammoth, and some departments or shifts being staffed primarily by temporaries. The union contends this is not sustainable for the district financially, and that having employees constantly turning over is “bad for patient care.”
‘Relying on travelers’
According to Renee Mattovich, an RN in the Emergency Department serving on the RN Negotiating Team, “continuing to rely on travelers isn’t only financially irresponsible but it’s ethically irresponsible for the district too.”
“Rural hospitals are a specialty that takes staff who know how to work outside of the box and think quickly with minimal resources provided due to the risk area.,” Mattovich stated. “Larger hospitals have specialists like cardiology, neurology, and stroke centers. When patients come in with heart attacks, we just know how to stabilize them till they fly. When someone with a stroke presents, knowing what drugs to give so the patient can receive stroke care is so vital.”
Mattovich stated that at larger hospitals nurses rarely have to intervene past these points in these situations as there is a cath lab and specialized team waiting for the patient. The incorrect dose with the medications for a heart attack or stroke could kill the patient.
“A traveler who has only worked at sea level cannot know how to take care of a patient with pulmonary edema from elevation sickness, which could affect those patient outcomes,” Mattovich stated. “We need to pay livable wages here so we can keep skilled staff here and not rely on travelers. Our community, our families, and our districts livelihood depend on it.”
Many employees see NIHD administration as bloated and top heavy, both in terms of salary and numbers of managers. As a case in point, the district’s interim CEO will be making an exorbitant $7,000 per week PLUS housing, food, and car. With inflation at a 40-year high of more than 8% for the past several months, many local employees are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“NIHD can find money for outside corporations, overpaid administrators, and anti-union lawyers to create a buffer between employees and administration, but it can’t seem to find money for its front-line staff,” according to the union.
In Rickford’s view, “the hospital is treating their frontline employees like numbers that are easily replaceable, choosing to spend money on travelers instead of using valuable resources to keep local staff here. Local employees, who have deeper roots in this area, are suffering. Workers can barely take care of our own families with the financial pressures of cost of living.”
The union urges the district to return to the table and bargain in good faith.
“We can think of numerous ways to work together to negotiate a contract that will improve morale and support retention of current employees,” confirmed Anneke Bishop, labor and delivery nurse, and member of the RN Bargaining team, “but this requires good faith bargaining between administration and both bargaining units.”