By Matt de Nesnera
SALINAS, Calif. — The state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) has issued a complaint alleging Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital (SVMH) engaged in unfair labor practices when it prevented striking employees from returning to work.
Employees represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) walked off the job on Tuesday for a 24-hour strike, protesting cuts and high compensation to executives.
The state complaint alleges SVMH interfered with legally protected employee rights by telling workers they would be unable to return to work on Wednesday or Thursday. It cites a section from the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, which prohibits discrimination against public employees for exercising their rights.
Additionally, the five-page complaint states the hospital denied NUHW its right to represent its employees.
The hospital hired temporary workers for the day of the strike, but officials said the only acceptable replacement firm demanded a three-day guaranteed minimum contract. SVMH said it had no choice but to keep some striking workers off the job until Friday.
“Our legal counsel is reviewing the complaint,” said Adrienne Laurent, Director of Communications at SVMH. “We have been assured that there is strong legal precedent for the actions we took to ensure patient safety.”
The PERB complaint details a memorandum sent to “all staff” from Bev Ratzenberger, Vice President of Operations at SVMH, a week before the strike. In a question-and-answer style format, the memo states that union members who resign before the strike can’t be legally fined by the union if they cross the picket line.
The memo also details how employees could resign from the union, telling them they could “send a letter (by certified or registered mail) to the Union resigning from your membership — or deliver it in person. You should keep a copy.” It goes on to state that resigning is the employee’s personal choice.
“This conduct interfered with the rights of bargaining unit employees,” the PERB complaint alleges.
Thursday morning, union members decided to take their demonstration from the front entrance of SVMH directly to the home of Harry Wardwell, Treasurer of the SVMH Board of Directors and President of Rabobank. 129 employees are still unable to go back on the job, replaced by temporary workers for one more day.
“We’re telling the hospital to let the workers go back to work today or face being sued by the state,” said Ernie Gonzales, field representative for NUHW. Gonzales said the hospital will likely have to shell out back pay for Wednesday, the first day some employees were unable to go back to work.
Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital is required to file a response to PERB within 20 days of the complaint, dated Wednesday.