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Beaumont nurses organize in spite of anti-union efforts

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Beaumont Health is facing allegations that supervisors intimidated nurses and interfered with their union organization efforts at its Royal Oak hospital.

The National Labor Relations Board issued a formal unfair labor practices complaint last week against the hospital, claiming the supervisors violated federal law in more than 30 instances last year. The complaint is the result of the labor board's investigation into claims made by the Michigan Nurses Association, which is trying to organize the hospital's more than 3,000 nurses.

Beaumont denies the labor board's allegations and says it will defend itself at the complaint's hearing before an administrative law judge, tentatively set for April 13 in Detroit. Royal Oak is the flagship hospital of the eight-hospital Beaumont Health system.

Roughly 20% of all nurses in Michigan are unionized.

Last spring, about 100 Beaumont Hospital-Royal Oak nurses announced their intent to form a union, citing cuts by the hospital system and declining staffing levels. However, another group of nurses came out against unionization and accused the Michigan Nurses Association of running a smear campaign against Beaumont.

The labor board's complaint says that some Beaumont supervisors:

  • "Coercively interrogated" nurses whom they suspected of pro-union sympathies.

  • Threatened that nurses would lose their jobs to outsourcing if they unionized.

  • Interrogated nurses about postings on a private Facebook page.

  • Enforced illegal rules that prohibited nurses from distributing pro-union information

  • Enforced more illegal rules prohibiting nurses from discussing union matters.

  • Threatened nurses with the loss of work schedule flexibility if they unionized

Although not cited in the complaint as any violation of labor law, Beaumont has asked the hospital's nurses to attend "educational sessions" featuring anti-union presentations by outside consultants, according to an Oakland County Board of Commissioners resolution last July in support of the nurses' "right to organize without coercion, intimidation or other influence."

Beaumont's Chief Nursing Officer Susan Grant said in an email Monday that those educational sessions were fact-based and simply informed the nurses of their rights.

"Many nurses have thanked us for providing the education the union wants to deny them," Grant said.

As for the labor board's complaint, Grant said the nurses' union withdrew two similar sets of allegations last year that it had wanted the board to take up for lack of evidence.

Sent to HR

The labor board's complaint also calls on Beaumont to rescind the discipline it meted out last July to nurse Philomena Kerobo, 63, who engaged in legally protected pro-union activities.

In a phone interview Monday, Kerobo said that she was sent to Human Resources last year for distributing information at work about unionization in a non-patient care area of the hospital, known as the nurses' station.

"If I didn’t have backing of the National Labor Relations Board and If I didn’t know my rights, I believe I would have been fired," she said.

Kerobo, who has been at Beaumont for 19 years, said she supports forming a union to gain better benefits, working conditions and a "collective voice" in the workplace. Pay is not a pressing concern, she said, as the Royal Oak nurses received raises in recent years.

"The main thing is we have no voice," she said. “A union will give us a way that things can be addressed that will not always be at management’s discretion."

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