UKIAH VALLEY MEDICAL CENTER: NRLB Says Religion No Barrier To Unionization Efforts
In a decision likely to have national implications, a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday that nurses at Seventh-day Adventist-affiliated Ukiah Valley Medical Center have the right to unionize. The hospital had argued that its religious status exempted it from national labor laws, asserting that a nurses union "would impede [its] ability to seek policy guidance directly from God." Three quarters of Ukiah nurses pledged support last summer for the unionization effort that they deemed necessary to collectively oppose the hospital's cost-cutting measures (see CHL 10/29). Adventist teachings forbid unionization. In his decision, NLRB Regional Director Robert Miller explained, "To grant an exemption to the employer and to other church- operated health care institutions would potentially impact a significant segment of the workforce in the health care industry and ... interfere with the fulfillment of the government's compelling interest in promoting national labor peace" (DeBare, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/10). Miller also ruled that prohibiting unionization would infringe on the First Amendment rights of the medical center employees.
Appealing To A Higher Power
Ukiah Valley CEO ValGene Devitt said the hospital would gear up for an appeal, possibly to the full NRLB in Washington, D.C. "Ultimately, an appeal to the courts may be necessary," Devitt said (Lauer, Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, 12/10). In contrast, Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association applauded the long-sought ruling, saying, "I could see Catholic Healthcare West claiming an exemption next, followed by every other religious order." The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Catholic regional hospitals have closely monitored the dispute, including those "facing union drives in Sacramento and Los Angeles" (12/10).