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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Old Contract Terms Hold Over as Union Rep Shifts

(CN) - Two California medical providers illegally canceled a scheduled raise for about 2,300 nurses and other health care workers after the employees voted to switch unions, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess issued an injunction against the Southern California Permanente Medical Group and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals on Dec. 17 at the request of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Under the order, the California hospital group must restore a pay increase, tuition reimbursement and training programs.

After the employees left the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) in February, Permanente and Kaiser had withheld annual raises and eliminated a tuition reimbursement program and a steward training program.

The NLRB requested the injunction in October, claiming that the terms and conditions of the old collective bargaining agreement should have remained in place until the union negotiated a new contract.

William Schmidt, an NLRB administrative law judge, issued a similar decision in the case shortly before the injunction came down.

Schmidt found that Kaiser's actions amounted to unfair labor practices.

"Respondents will be required restore and maintain, absent the consent of the NUHW or a lawful impasse, the previously existing terms and conditions of employment applicable to those employees while negotiations proceed for a new collective bargaining agreement," Schmidt wrote. "Specifically, respondents must immediately restore and apply the across the board wage increase scheduled for April 1, 2010, the pre-existing tuition reimbursement benefit, and the previous steward training benefit previously applicable to the employees in the three aforementioned units when they were represented by the SEIU-UHW."

NLRB attorney Robert MacKay, who is representing the health care workers, said Kaiser can appeal the decision to the national board in Washington, D.C., but the injunction will remain in place.

In court filings against the injunction, Kaiser's attorneys argued that the hospitals were not required to maintain the status quo after the election, because the NUHW is not part of its national labor union partnership.

The contract between the employer and the former union becomes void when a new union is certified, but the employer must abide by existing employment terms until it reaches an agreement with the new union, Schmidt ruled.

"The respondents' claim that the three terms at issue - the April 2010 wage increase, the tuition reimbursement program, and steward training benefit - do not constitute terms and conditions applicable to the unit employees because they are derived from the national agreement negotiated by the Coalition of Unions to which the NUHW does not belong is incompatible with the respondents' statutory duty to bargain," Schmidt wrote. "To hold otherwise would give primacy to the contractual relationships that existed before the unit employees selected a new representative and would seriously impair, if not virtually eliminate as a practical matter, the fundamental right of employees under Section 7 to change their bargaining representative."

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