Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Is this the free part, or the fair part?

On January 27, 2009, the SEIU, the Area Trades Council, and Caritas Christi announced that they had signed an agreement for "free and fair" union election procedures at the hospitals in the CC system. Here's an excerpt from the joint press release:

Caritas Christi, known for delivering world class care in community settings, has reaffirmed the system’s commitment to patients, caregivers, the community, and Catholic Social Teachings by pledging without reservation that Caritas will allow free and fair voting conditions for its employees when they are deciding whether to form unions.

One of the union leaders said, "Caritas management and workers should both be commended for choosing a more enlightened path of labor relations, one that is based on shared values and mutual respect.”

Well, now I've had a chance to read the actual agreement. (No, I couldn't find it on the hospital system's website.) Here's an excerpt from the Standard of Conduct section, covering the period during which an election is pending:

The parties agree that the question of whether workers should be represented by the Union is one that the workers should answer for themselves. Except for the agreed-upon public announcements and language attached hereto as Attachment 1 [click on copy above to read it] to be handed out by managers on mutually agreed upon cards only when asked a question about unionization, no Employer officer, manager, supervisor, designee or agent shall make any comment, directly or indirectly, on this question.

In my view, this is a gag order, straight and simple. I am not sure if the prohibition covers only comments made in the hospitals, or if it also covers conversations that people might have outside the hospitals, in the grocery store, at the local pub, at a kids soccer game, or elsewhere. But, even if it only applies in hospital settings, it is unsettling. In their zeal to prevent any possibility of bad behavior by a supervisor, the parties have taken away the right of free speech on this topic from an important and engaged constituency in the hospitals. This does not feel like "shared values and mutual respect" to me.

In contrast, read this language and the other terms from the Code of Conduct adopted by our Board of Directors:

BIDMC has a strong commitment to its mission of community service in providing excellent clinical care, conducting medical research, and training future generations of medical professionals. As an academic medical center and prominent member of the corporate and civic communities, BIDMC is committed to an environment of respectful and open discourse and debate among its management, employees and physicians. It is of the utmost concern to the Board of Directors that this fair and unhindered exchange of points of view is maintained and supported during all times, including any attempt by unions to organize staff at BIDMC.


The Reverend of Rock and Roll said...

# 1. I couldn't agree with you more. In our long-term health care company company, we share a similar point of view regarding unionization. In this case, even before union elections have occurred, the union is dictating all terms, including those originally allowed in the United States Constitution.

#2. Posted at 4:20 am? Don't you EVER sleep?

Anonymous said...

On #2: Of course, during meetings at work!

Anonymous said...

It's curious that an agreement like this that affects every single employee in that hospital is not available on the hospital website for the employees to see. Also, I wonder, if this is the model that SEIU intends to replicate in its negotiations across the city, how come it is not on the SEIU site?

Anonymous said...

From your perspective this seems completely unreasonable, but in some environments where people have completely lost trust in management this seems pretty likely to me. I think management's job is to make sure it never gets that bad. Speak with a human voice so that employees don't see management as a lying/ignorant monolithic entity, but a group of actual involved people working hard to make the hospital better. I get the impression from BIDMC that you're doing exactly that. It's easy to impose gag orders on groups that you don't think of as real people.

PJ Geraghty said...

Not that I wish to even hint at defending the SEIU, whose tactics as described in your blog have been abhorrent, but if they agreed to the language in the attachment, then it seems that they have agreed to abandon "card check."

The gag order is reprehensible, and a bad choice for Caritas Christi. But SEIU's apparent abandonment of card check is good news for the rest of the country.

Good news, that is, until they go back on their word.

Anonymous said...

SEIU is still pursuing changes in federal legislation to authorize the use of card check in the place of elections.

Mike Rubin said...


I am 3rd year medical student perusing the net for possible clerkships. That is how I stumbled across your blog. I am impressed, a hospital director and blogger. Not an easy feat.

Before I started medical school in 2006, I too had a flourishing blog on blogspot. Medical school has left me with little time write and even less to write about.

Aside from a few personal statements and a pending publication I haven’t written in years. Maybe its time to breath some life into the old blog.

Thanks for the inspiration!


Anonymous said...

Also wonderful to hear from the point of view that even whispering the word "union" was something that could get you into trouble many, many years ago at the BI...bebore it was the BIDMC.

Anonymous said...

I certainly see what SEIU gains from this agreement.

I can even see that Caritas can claim the agreement goes along with their Catholic mission.

But I still fail to understand what an employee will gain from this agreement. They will be fed only the SEIU perspective and then have the opportunity to vote a piece of their paycheck away. Voting for the SEIU does not provide Caritas with additional funds to increase wages or benefits. The other item a union normally offers is a voice with management. But the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” already states:

“A Catholic health care institution must treat its employees respectfully and justly. This responsibility includes: equal employment opportunities for anyone qualified for the task, irrespective of a person's race, sex, age, national origin, or disability; a workplace that promotes employee participation; a work environment that ensures employee safety and well-being; just compensation and benefits; and recognition of the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively without prejudice to the common good.”

So again I ask, what will an employee gain?

Anonymous said...


At Massachusetts Hospital Association we have seen neutrality agreements across the country deny employees access to complete information about the potential effects of union membership on the workplace, so that they can make a fully informed decision.

SEIU1199 says their agreement with Caritas is “based on shared values and mutual respect.” But neutrality agreements don’t seem to respect employees’ abilities to hear all sides of the issue and make an informed vote. I think this is particularly true in Massachusetts. The current process under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) has worked well in Massachusetts for the last 60 years – we’re in the top quarter of the nation’s most unionized states. I’d say employees in this state have been able to make an informed decision on whether to unionize or not when given the freedom to hear all sides of an issue in an open and respectful exchange of ideas and opinions and have exercised their democratic right to a secret ballot election.

Rob said...

This "Gag order" is because management is implicitly in a position to affect a worker's employment if the worker should displease him or her. All things are not equal, and so long as one party has a clear coercive effect - actual or implied - on the other by virtue of the management/worker relationship, management must stay hands-off.

That's because often management wants only to keep labor costs low.

I don't agree that's the case in healthcare, where there's another implicit force at work: care.

But that's the reasoning. It's not a matter of freedom of speech as much as freedom from job-losing coercion. History proves it's necessary.

Want to prove you're trustworthy? Treat your employees like they can trust you. They'll see that the union has something to hide. You don't have to lecture about your distrust of unions. It's already known. Talk instead about your trust of your employees to make a good decision.

Anonymous said...

Caritas is already laying people off and cutting programs; how in the world are they going to survive after the union robs them and their workers---look at what happened to the 1199 hospitals on the Cape---they have had MASSIVE layoffs.