The nurses union has asked the National Labor Relations Board to step in after they say the Grand Haven hospital “unilaterally established a new on-call system for nurses that could compromise patient safety,” according to a statement released by the union. The union says that violates the National Labor Relations Act, and the hospital administration is refusing to compromise.
“Forcing an unsafe on-call system on the nurses is defenseless and puts the patients at risk,” said Flo Baerren, labor relations representative for the union. “There is no question that the hospital is violating the law by refusing to bargain with the nurses over the hours they work and listen to their professional judgment on the matter.”
Jennifer VanSkiver, spokeswoman for the hospital and its parent organization, the North Ottawa Community Health System, said the collective bargaining agreement in place with the nurses union gives the hospital the right to schedule nurses as needed to meet patient demand.
She said the health system and the union are in collective bargaining negotiations for a new labor agreement, and no law has been violated.
“Call scheduling is a topic of the bargaining process, along with all other terms and conditions of employment,” VanSkiver said.
She said they’ll continue to negotiate “to reach an agreement that best meets as many employee preferences and requests as possible, while keeping patient safety and patient needs as our top priorities.”
There are 13 full- and part-time nurses working in the birthing center, and another two “casual” or “as-needed” nurses, VanSkiver said. She said at no time is the care of patients put at risk.
“NOCH exists for the care of our patients and community,” VanSkiver said. “We employ highly qualified personnel and we schedule staff to ensure optimum patient care. We have changed the days of the week on which we schedule nurses for call over the years based on what is best for our patients at every given point in time. We have also hired additional nurses as necessary to ensure staff members are not working excessive hours.”
She said the hospital’s scheduling and on-call practices are recognized and similar to the practices of other West Michigan hospitals.
This is the third time in a year that the nurses union has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Grand Haven hospital. A charge filed 14 months ago has since been resolved, both VanSkiver and the union said.
When the hospital implemented the on-call system for its operating room circulating nurses last year, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge over the change. That charge is still pending with the National Labor Relations Board and has been deferred to arbitration. The union said a hearing is set for this month.
“Labor unions have the right to file complaints,” VanSkiver said. “The filing of complaints in and of themselves does not mean that any law has been violated.”
John Karebian, executive director the union, said he can’t think of any other employer his organization has dealt with that has had this many unfair labor practices filed against it in such a short period.
“The nurses have the right to have a voice in how any unit is staffed,” Karebian said. “We will not stand by and allow the hospital to create problems with patient safety and care by refusing to consider the nurses’ proposals for proper staffing and call schedules.”
The Michigan Nurses Association is the largest union for registered nurses in the state, and is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO.