Union efforts to organize hospital and nursing home employees wereadversely affected by a National Labor Relations Board ruling that thenumber of bargaining units in such institutions must be held to aminimum. The Board contended that the ruling conformed with arequirement imposed by the Congress in 1974 when it extended toemployees of nonprofit health care facilities the right to bargain onwages and benefits.
In granting this right, the Congress specified thatbargaining units in such institutions should be as broad as possible toreduce the possibility that a small number of workers could paralyze ahospital. The Board did not specify the precise number of bargainingunits that would be appropriate in a hospital, but one Board member saidthat four units might be appropriate in a large institution and two in asmall one. The case arose when the International Brotherhood of ElectricalWorkers organized a small number of trades workers at St. FrancisHospital in Memphis, TN. In 1982, the Board ruled that the hospitalmust bargain with the union.
At that time, the Board maintained thatthe 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 otherindustries. In overturning the 1982 decision, the reconstituted Board held thatunions seeking to designate bargaining units in health care facilitiesmust prove a “disparity of interests,” in wages and in theother 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 theruling did not include “guidance as to what it means.
” Hesaid some employers may withdraw from current bargaining on initialcontracts and ask the courts to rule on the legality of the bargainingunit. Management attorney John Irving disagreed, saying that the decisionwill preclude much litigation over bargaining units because the courtswill now have a more definite understanding of the intent of theCongress regarding bargaining units.