LABOR DISPUTE: Financial Troubles Beset Good Samaritan Hospital
Several efforts will be made this week to resolve the labor dispute between nurses and officials at Los Angeles' Good Samaritan Hospital, the Los Angeles Times reports. A candlelight vigil will be held Monday night to support workers at the not-for-profit hospital, preceding Tuesday and Wednesday's "hotly contested" election to decertify the California Nurses Association from representing the hospital's 500-plus nurses. Nurses have been working without a contract since voting for the union in December 1998. Negotiations since then have prompted accusations on both sides of "harassment, deception and unfair labor practices." In recent years, "major financial pressures," such as rising health care costs and federal cutbacks, have caused the independent hospital, which is affiliated with the Episcopal church, to make several financial cutbacks. Earlier this year, the hospital cut hourly wages and asked nurses to switch to a cheaper system of paid time off and to forego bonuses for working weekends -- reductions that would amount to a 3% decrease in nurses' incomes, according to California Nurses Association organizer David Monkawa. Nurses say the cutbacks will result in rising workloads, equipment and supply problems and "an influx of temporary nurses unfamiliar with hospital procedures." Maria Bianchi, a staff nurse in the hospital's intensive care unit, said, "If we refuse to treat a patient, we can be fired, and if we accept a patient we can't guarantee their care. It's so unsafe now for patients and nurses." Hospital President and CEO Andrew Leeka, credited with reducing the hospital's budget shortfall from $30 million in the 1998-99 fiscal year to $18 million this year, countered that patient care "had not declined" and that the proposed cuts in pay and benefits were "preferable" to implementing layoffs. Leeka also hired the Burke Group, an organization that is viewed by critics as "union-busters," to "counteract the union's organizers and educate him about labor law."
A Clerical Response
The standoff between nurses and officials at Good Samaritan has "deeply divided" members of the Episcopal diocese and prompted clergy members to search for ideas on how to encourage both immediate and long term solutions to the hospital's financial woes. Bishop Frederick Borsch of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles said, "We have to recognize that the hospital is operating under financial constraints, and at the same time we can't save the hospital by being unfair to workers." Although the church ceded control of the hospital to nonsectarian management decades ago, "emotional bonds and an array of institutional ties" remain. Each year, the diocese elects one board representative, and the hospital's chaplain is Episcopalian. Mimi Grant, a diocesan lay leader, said the church should remain neutral and should support the hospital "mainly through prayer." Borsch, however, said that more individual Episcopalian donors "might be tapped" for financial contributions to aid the facility. In addition, Borsch urged the community to increase contributions to the hospital and pressed lawmakers to increase health care budgets (Watanabe, 9/25).