Wading into an already divisive issue that shows no sign of quick resolution, Oregon Gov. John Ktizhaber has written to the CEO of St. Charles Medical Center-Bend, saying he's "troubled" by the hospital's moves to "influence the decisions of its workers" on whether to continue to belong to a service employees union.
Kitzhber wrote to St. Charles CEO Jim Diegel a week ago, the same day the Service Employees International Union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the hospital, accusing if of various efforts, including dismissal of union supporters, to influence a union decertificiation vote that had been scheduled for Wednesday of this week.
The National Labor Relations Board, which oversees labor elections and received the complaint, has postponed the election for up to five weeks and says it could be scrapped entirely, should an investigation substantiate the SEIU's claims.
Diegel wrote back to Kitzhaber two days later, on Sunday, defending the hospital's actions and calling it "a local issue between a private employer and its employees."
Here are the governor's and Diegel's letters, in full:
March 16, 2012
St. Charles Health Systems
2500 NE Neff Road
Bend, Oregon 97701
I have been following from afar the developments at St. Charles since the workers voted to form a union last year. As you know, I believe that a positive relationship with health workers ? as well as good wages and benefits ? is essential to build the stable, quality workforce we will need for the new health care delivery system.
I also believe that the decision to form, join or dissolve a union belongs to those who have a right to make that choice: the workers themselves. I am troubled, therefore, to learn that the hospital has taken steps to influence the decisions of its workers in this matter.
St. Charles is a leader in some of the most important and innovative health reforms in America. I hope that St. Charles can similarly lead the way in forging healthy and innovative partnership relationships with its employees. Kaiser Permanente was pioneer in this area. You can take it to the next level.
I urge you to reconsider the decision to intervene in the election. A ruling by the NLRB would send the wrong message concerning the collaboration we need to succeed in creating a new more efficient and effective health care system for our citizens.
John Kitzhaber, M.D.
March 18, 2012
Honorable Governor John Kitzhaber, MD
254 State Capitol
900 Court Street
Salem, OR 97301-4047
Dear Governor Kitzhaber,
I am in receipt of your March 16, 2012 letter related to the ongoing labor negotiations between St. Charles Health System and the Service Employees International Union Local 49, and your concerns expressed in the letter are noted. However, I strongly feel this is a local issue between a private employer and its employees.
St. Charles is a Thompson Reuters Top 50 health system and our Bend hospital has been recognized as a leader in innovative excellence for our health reform efforts. We are dedicated to our caregivers and are committed to providing fair, market-based compensation and a benefits package that rivals or exceeds those of health systems throughout the state.
This issue has been a contentious one for our caregivers for the past 18 months with the initial vote going to the SEIU by a slim margin of six votes. We have negotiated in good faith through more than 30 sessions -- some of which have included a federal mediator -- and have reached tentative agreements on the majority of the contract provisions. We were truly hoping for a resolution through bargaining, but have not yet reached a contract agreement.
I completely agree with you that the decision to form, join or dissolve a union belongs to our employees. We have supported that premise all along. In fact it was a grassroots group of our frontline caregivers who came together on its own to file the decertification petition with the NLRB. We have supported the NLRB's decision to allow our caregivers to participate in a decertification election.
St. Charles leaders have in no way attempted to intervene in this election. We have been available for our caregivers, we have answered their questions and we have shared or opinions. It is the SEIU who is intervening by filing last-minute ULP's that effectively block this election.
f you truly value the voice of the employee, please ask the SEIU to allow this election to go forward so that our St. Charles caregivers can be heard.
James A. Diegel, FACHE
President and CEO
St. Charles Health Systems