County Pulse: Dates set for union vote for nurses at Memorial Medical Center

06/06/2014 8:00 PM

06/06/2014 11:10 PM

An election is set for June 26-27 to determine whether nurses at Memorial Medical Center in Modesto are represented by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United.

According to the last estimate, about 850 registered nurses are eligible to vote in the election at Memorial, an affiliate of Sacramento-based Sutter Health. The union’s organizing effort began in mid-2012 and took time to proceed to an election. The Modesto hospital has been a nonunion facility since it was founded in 1948.

Interest in union representation seemed to gain steam with staff cuts in early 2013 at the 423-bed medical center, situated at Briggsmore Avenue and Coffee Road. Pro-union nurses express concerns about nurse-to-patient staffing ratios and a practice of floating nurses to work in clinical areas where they lack expertise.

Nurses who oppose the union also are making their voices heard. They said patients at Memorial receive the proper level of care. In addition, nurses are paid well and supported by management. In their opinion, the union benefits from holding the election a week before the July Fourth holiday, when people are away on vacation.

CNA claimed this week that Sutter has hired consultants to dissuade nurses at Memorial from joining the union. Community members are starting to take sides in the upcoming vote. A coalition including the Rev. Rex Hays of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Patterson; Modesto Councilman Tony Madrigal; labor groups; and the Modesto Peace/Life Center called on Sutter to allow a fair election.

In a statement, Memorial said, “It is unfortunate the union is grossly misrepresenting, to some members in the community, our commitment to a fair election process. This is a shameless and typical union tactic.” Nurses have a right to choose whether to keep working with management or be represented by a union, and “we have and will continue to comply with election guidelines established by the National Labor Relations Board,” Memorial said.

Opinions are mixed about the decline of unions in the U.S. But the CNA is one union that doesn’t seem to slow down. Beside campaigns to grow membership, it is fighting the consolidation of hospitals and health systems that coincides with federal health reform.

One battleground is Manteca, a city that rapidly expanded during the housing boom and lately is a haven for retirees, who prefer to have health care services close to home. At CNA’s urging, the Manteca City Council passed a resolution Tuesday telling Kaiser Permanente to restore services at its hospital on West Yosemite Avenue. A coalition of seniors, unionized nurses and religious leaders claims that Kaiser has steadily moved hospital services from Manteca to its Dale Road medical center in Modesto.

They contend that patients arriving at the emergency room in Manteca often are transferred to Kaiser’s north Modesto hospital for evaluation or treatment. In addition, it’s difficult for Manteca seniors to arrange for transportation to Modesto.

The council’s resolution called on Kaiser to restore cardiology and 24-hour ultrasound service in Manteca, as well as to reopen a medical-surgical unit.

Kaiser has disputed the union’s claims, noting that some services supposedly dropped in Manteca were never offered there. The Oakland-based health care giant started a Manteca-Modesto shuttle to provide transportation for its members.

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