Board limits bargaining units in health facilities Essay

Union efforts to organize hospital and nursing home employees were
adversely affected by a National Labor Relations Board ruling that the
number of bargaining units in such institutions must be held to a
minimum. The Board contended that the ruling conformed with a
requirement imposed by the Congress in 1974 when it extended to
employees of nonprofit health care facilities the right to bargain on
wages and benefits. In granting this right, the Congress specified that
bargaining units in such institutions should be as broad as possible to
reduce the possibility that a small number of workers could paralyze a
hospital. The Board did not specify the precise number of bargaining
units that would be appropriate in a hospital, but one Board member said
that four units might be appropriate in a large institution and two in a
small one.



The case arose when the International Brotherhood of Electrical
Workers organized a small number of trades workers at St. Francis
Hospital in Memphis, TN. In 1982, the Board ruled that the hospital
must bargain with the union. At that time, the Board maintained that
the basic test for a bargaining unit was whether the workers shared
“a community of interests” in their wages, hours, training,
and working conditions, the same requirement that applies in other
industries.

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In overturning the 1982 decision, the reconstituted Board held that
unions seeking to designate bargaining units in health care facilities
must prove a “disparity of interests,” in wages and in the
other working conditions that are sharper than in other industries.



The reaction from organized labor was immediate. Jerry Shea,
health care coordinator for the Service Employees, complained that the
ruling did not include “guidance as to what it means.” He
said some employers may withdraw from current bargaining on initial
contracts and ask the courts to rule on the legality of the bargaining
unit.



Management attorney John Irving disagreed, saying that the decision
will preclude much litigation over bargaining units because the courts
will now have a more definite understanding of the intent of the
Congress regarding bargaining units.

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