11 docs support union effort

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By David Giuliani

Eleven local doctors are joining in the effort to persuade Alta Vista Regional Hospital to negotiate with a union representing most of the hospital’s employees.

The doctors were among 180 residents who signed a recent petition encouraging the hospital to recognize the workers, who are represented by District 1199 of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees. Five nurses and other health-care professionals also signed.

The petition was sent to Wayne Smith, chairman and CEO of Community Health Systems, Alta Vista’s parent company.

“Many members of our community have written personally to you over the past months about the situation regarding employees at Alta Vista Regional Hospital,” said Carrol Pearson, who signed a cover letter to Smith. “To my knowledge, not one has received a response from you. Your silence makes it appear that you hold in contempt not only the workers and caregivers at the hospital, who are our friends, neighbors and family members, but also for the members of our community at large.”

In the letter, Pearson noted that the National Labor Relations Board has sided with the union.

Smith, whose corporate office is based in Franklin, Tenn., runs one of the nation’s biggest hospital chains, which includes scores of facilities around the country.

In 2007, nearly two-thirds of employees at Alta Vista voted for District 1199 to be its representative at the bargaining table. The hospital, however, objected to the election’s procedures and refused to negotiate with the union.

In 2008, the National Labor Relations Board sided with District 1199 and certified the union. But talks between management and labor still have yet to take place.

The hospital says it is pursuing its rights by seeking a court review of the 2007 election. Officials said Alta Vista has no plans to negotiate pending the outcome of the review.

“Alta Vista Regional Hospital continues to believe that the union election was not properly conducted,” hospital spokesman Mathew Martinez said in a statement this week. “We have exercised the rights provided to all employers through the National Labor Relations Act by filing an appeal of that election. We believe this matter should be resolved through the appropriate judicial process and intend to work within that process.”

Martinez said Alta Vista respects its employees and will continue to honor their rights, whether they seek to be represented by a labor union or not.

In 2007, fliers appeared at the hospital contending that forming a union was futile. The fliers noted that employees at Deming’s Community Health Systems hospital had organized in 1995, but the two sides never went to the bargaining table.

Alta Vista denied it had any role in posting the fliers.