MODESTO — In years past, good pay and opportunities for development seemed to keep the workforce happy at Modesto's Memorial Medical Center.
The environment has changed somewhat with pending layoffs and recent attempts to unionize nurses at the 423-bed center at Briggsmore Avenue and Coffee Road.
On Nov. 29, the National Labor Relations Board approved a settlement between the hospital's parent organization, Sacramento-based Sutter Health, and the California Nurses Association regarding a charge of unfair labor practices.
Sutter agreed to post written notices in hospital break rooms by Dec. 27, notifying employees of their rights to join a union. The notices state that hospital administration will not prevent employees from exercising their right to unionize, will not conduct unlawful surveillance of union activities and will not impede off-duty employees from trying to organize nurses at the hospital.
In late August, the union charged that hospital security guards and a house supervisor ordered a veteran nurse in the intensive care unit to leave the hospital and confiscated union fliers and personal documents from the employee.
The complaint said Sue Chaffee, a 33-year employee, had gone to the hospital while off duty to check an ICU staffing book for available shifts and put union fliers in break rooms. Two security guards followed her into the unit and waited in the ICU lounge while the nurse used the bathroom.
When the nurse entered the lounge again, the house supervisor told Chaffee that she wasn't allowed to "badge in" and that she had to leave, the union charged. Those actions violated laws permitting nurses to talk to other employees about the union, so long as they don't disrupt patient care, the union said.
The law permits employees to distribute union literature in break rooms, the CNA said.
Since the settlement, "we have seen a reduction in that kind of behavior by hospital administration," said Joe Schuman, an organizer for CNA, which is part of National Nurses United. "(This month) we had a couple of nurses on their own time speaking with nurses who were also on a break."
A Memorial spokesman released a statement Friday: "We continue to believe our actions in the circumstances surrounding this issue were lawful, but we opted to enter into a settlement agreement with the NLRB to bring timely closure to the matter."
The statement continued that Memorial "supports the rights of our nurses to be educated and to ultimately make their own decision about union representation. We remain committed to following all applicable laws about information distribution."
Union officials said they were gathering cards from nurses who are interested in representation. A vote on joining the union has not been scheduled.
Last month, Memorial notified Stanislaus County officials that 114 employees would be laid off in January, including 14 registered nurses. The restructuring was expected to reduce hours for 51 other employees.
Schuman said the cuts to support staff will increase the workload for nurses. "What they are finding is they are having to do more with less," he said.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.