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George Washington Hospital Found Liable for Anti-Union Campaign

Sept. 5, 2019, 9:18 PM

The George Washington University Hospital committed a series of serious labor law violations during an anti-union campaign that culminated in the facility unilaterally ending its recognition of a decades-old employees’ union, a federal labor board judge found.

The facility in Washington, D.C., is run by the university and one of the largest hospital operators in the country, Universal Health Services Inc., which bought an 80% stake in 1997.

National Labor Relations Board Judge Michael Rosas wrote a 50-page opinion noting that a number of the hospital’s witnesses weren’t credible during trial and detailing a course of unlawful actions over nearly two years that “endeavored to strip the Union of its role in representing” a unit of dietary and service workers at the hospital.

Rosas suggested in his Sept. 4 decision that management may have played some role in an employee-organized petition to decertify the union. He said he didn’t find the hospital’s vice president of labor relations credible when she testified that she only learned of the petition several months after it was started. Rosas’ decision indicates that successful efforts to decertify a union can be undone where the employer violates labor law in the course of pursuing a union-free workplace.

The hospital said in a Sept. 5 email that it plans to appeal the decision.

“George Washington University Hospital (GWUH) disagrees with the ruling of the Administrative Law Judge on this matter,” said Christine Searight, the hospital’s communications director. “We dispute and deny all the allegations made by the union and believe the evidence presented at the trial demonstrated our good faith efforts and compliance with the NLRA. GWUH respects the rights of its employees to join a union as well as their rights to withdraw recognition of the union.”

UHS reprentatives deferred to hospital management at George Washington Hospital.

The judge found that management engaged in “surface bargaining"—a practice of feigning negotiations with no real intent of reaching agreement—with 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East for nearly two years. GWU Hospital also made counteroffers during negotiations that would have given it “unfettered discretion to change virtually all aspects” of the union members’ employment; stopped the usual practice of paying union members for time spent in bargaining; and posted notices in the workplace blaming and disparaging union representatives for failing to reach agreement or to get the employees raises, according to Rosas.

“This was an anti-union strategy from the jump, it had all the elements in it,” Stephen Godoff, an attorney at Abato, Rubenstein and Abato P.A., who represents the workers, said Sept. 5. “It’s a great decision for the union and a repudiation of George Washington University Hospital’s horrible misbehavior at the bargaining table.”

A hospital employee eventually turned in a petition expressing dissatisfaction with the union that was signed by 53.6% of the union workers, according to the ruling. Hospital management then unilaterally stopped bargaining with or recognizing the union, taking the position that it had been decertified via the petition.

The hospital’s “unlawful failure to bargain in good faith with the Union is presumed to have caused the subsequent employee disaffection,” the judge said. “From the unit employees’ viewpoint, the Hospital’s surface and regressive bargaining, compounded by” the postings in the workplace “clearly discredited the Union, conveyed a sense of futility in union representation and prompted many unit employees to sign the disaffection petition.”

The NLRB ordered the hospital to recognize and begin bargaining with the union immediately, including progress reports to a regional agency officer—a remedy the NLRB issues sparingly. GWU Hospital also will have to provide backpay to six workers who weren’t compensated for time in bargaining sessions and post notices about the judge’s findings in its workplace.

The case is District Hospital Parnter, L.P. D/B/A The George Washington University Hospital, and UHS of D.C., N.L.R.B., Case 05-CA-216482, ALJ Decision 9/4/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hassan A. Kanu in Washington at hkanu@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Phil Kushin at pkushin@bloomberglaw.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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