Alta Vista loses appeal on union

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Hospital considering options

By Martin Salazar

The U.S. Court of Appeals has shot down Alta Vista Regional Hospital’s attempt to nullify the vote taken by its employees more than five years ago to form a union.

In fact, the 13-page opinion — issued by a three judge panel of the District of Columbia Circuit on Nov. 2 — ridicules the hospital’s arguments, characterizing them as a stall tactic.

The case was called San Miguel Hospital Corporation, petitioner v. National Labor Relations Board, respondent.

“As we noted at the outset, the hospital unleashed a blizzard of arguments to challenge the board’s unfair-labor-practice orders,” the Appeals Court ruling states.

“It might be appropriate to suggest that in appellate argument, the proverbial rifle is preferable to a machine gun — but that would assume petitioner had at least a few good arguments; it did not. In truth, it appears to us that all the hospital sought was the inevitable delay that review of board orders affords. This is regrettable.”

Hospital spokesman Mathew P. Martinez issued a written statement on the decision Tuesday morning, in which it announced that it is considering its options, including whether to appeal.

“Several years ago, a union election took place at Alta Vista Regional Hospital,” the statement reads. “The hospital challenged the results of the election, based on issues around voter eligibility and the union’s inclusion of employees who said they did not want union representation. After pending for several years, a federal court recently issued a decision in this case and did not agree with the hospital’s position.”

The hospital went on to state that it “values all of its employees and appreciates the care they provide for our patients and local community. Regardless of the ultimate decisions in this case, we will continue in our commitment to treat all employees with respect and to provide high-quality care for patients.”

Officials with the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees District 1199 NM, which will represent Alta Vista employees, hailed the ruling. President Fonda Osborn said the union has already sent the hospital a certified letter asking to begin negotiations.

“Our goal is to negotiate a fair contract for the workers over there that will give them some job security and maybe some increased wages and benefits,” she said.

Osborn said union attorneys have told her the hospital has 30 days to file an appeal, and she said the appeal would have to be filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yolanda Contreras, an organizer for District 1199, said the union has heard a lot of complaints from hospital employees. She said a contract would give employees recourse if their rights are violated.

“We owe it to our hospital workers to organize and to get them a contract...,” Contreras said. “We’re ready to get this contract rolling. We owe it to the community, and we owe it to our patients.”

District 1199 already represents employees at University of New Mexico Hospital, Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and at the hospital in Los Alamos.

The union at Alta Vista Regional Hospital will represent everyone from nurses, technicians and pharmacists to clerks, housekeepers and laundry aides. The only hospital employees that will not be represented by the union, aside from management, are doctors, guards and human resources, Contreras said.

District 1199 petitioned for an election in a bargaining unit combining all on-site professional and non-professional employees at the hospital more than five years ago. The hospital objected, contending, among other things, that it was inappropriate to combine all hospital employees into a single bargaining unit.

The National Labor Relations Board’s regional director rejected the hospital’s argument and the board itself refused to overturn the regional director’s decision.

A secret-ballot election was held in June 2007, and employees voted overwhelmingly — 121 to 73 — for union representation. The hospital filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board objecting to the election’s procedures, but the federal agency rejected Alta Vista’s assertions and certified the union. The hospital has refused to bargain with the union and has been appealing the election ever since.

Alta Vista’s parent company is Tennessee-based Community Health Systems Inc.