Delays from St. Charles Health System prompted the Central Oregon Providers Network, a group of doctors and health care professionals, to refile for union representation with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday morning.
About 300 doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other health care workers, who are members of the St. Charles Medical Group, initially filed for union representation on June 3 and pledged support for a union.
They are forming a union to be included in the health care discussions on patient care.
But the health system said that some of the medical professionals could be considered supervisors, making them ineligible to be part of the union. Those identified by St. Charles as supervisors divested themselves of any hint of a conflict by resigning from committees and about 300 re-signed cards pledging support for a union, said Dr. Joshua Plank, a hospitalist at St. Charles Medical Group and a union leader.
The medical group works for St. Charles Health System.
“The health system got things delayed and during the delaying process (the health system) made allegations that there were supervisors involved,” Plank said.
“There’s not a lot of precedence of unionizing by doctors.”
The NLRB is required to investigate accusations, Plank said. Rather than wait for the investigative process, the union leadership decided to re-pledge their support by signing new union cards, Plank said.
“We just wanted the process to get back on track and to avoid further delays,” Plank said.
After receiving the refiling, the NLRB double checks that at least 30% of signatures are from the proposed bargaining unit, said Kayla Blado, NLRB director and press secretary. Then the employer is notified and if the parties agree on the details of an election, an election date will be schedule, Blado said. If there is no agreement on an election format, then the NLRB regional director decides, she said.
The Central Oregon Providers Network is under the umbrella of the American Federation of Teachers, a national union that includes 200,000 health care members and 1.7 million teachers.
“It’s been extremely frustrating,” Plank said. “They (health system administrators) have openly said they respect our legal rights to unionize, but their actions don’t say that.”
St. Charles Health System said it had not received notification from the NLRB of a new petition being filed, said Lisa Goodman, health system spokeswoman.
“St. Charles has an obligation to ensure all laws are followed in the union organizing process,” Goodman said. “We want the rights of all our employees honored throughout the process.”
The group of health care professionals is not seeking unionization to receive higher pay or better benefits, Plank said. The medical professionals are seeking union representation to ensure, through collective bargaining, that their opinions are being heard when it comes to delivering care to patients, Plank said.
At the same time the doctors and health care workers are filing for unionization, the health system’s CEO, Joe Sluka, stepped down after eight years on the job on July 12. He has since taken an advisory position at the health system. The hospital has not said what his pay rate will be.
The St. Charles board of directors named Dr. Steve Gordon, a former member of the board, as interim CEO.
In addition, the health system has said it has racked up $40 million in operational losses so far this year. In mid-July, health administrators attempted to lower the standard of care because it didn’t have enough workers. The Oregon Health Authority, however, informed the health system that there are other ways it can meet the standards and a declaration wasn’t necessary.
These actions come on the heels of layoffs of two key executives — Dr. Jeff Absalon and Rod Marchiando. Their positions were eliminated on Monday. In May the hospital laid off 105 nonmedical workers and eliminated 76 vacant positions to offset operational losses.
As the scope of the operational losses has come to light, the physicians submitted a plan listing 17 recommendations to improve patient care and reduce costs, Plank said.
“None of those recommendations were explored or followed through with,” Plank said. “The health system says we have no power. The health system doesn’t value the input of this group.
“People are extremely frustrated.”
In the past, medical professionals have been fearful of repercussions and backlash for speaking out, Plank said. Some medical professionals were targeted, he said. No details were provided.
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