Oops, Nuns Caught Violating National Labor Law Again
*Update: Illegal deposition excerpts after the jump...
Sister Katherine Gray, head of the one of the most socially active and downright grassroots religious orders in the world, really wants the media, her workers and everyone she knows to believe that she and the managers at the multi-million dollar hospital ministry she runs aren't trying to stop their workers from unionizing.
The only problem is that those same managers have a bad habit of hiring anti-union firms as consultants and getting caught violating national labor law. Sister Kit, as Sister Katherine is affectionately known, has also said to people privately that her hospital employees don't "need" a union the way farm workers or janitors once might have. (Members of the Sister's of St. Joseph of Orange marched and some even went to jail during the heyday of the farm worker labor movement.)
For five years, Sister Kit and her hospital heads have repeatedly dodged some employees' and union negotiators' requests to sit down at the table and draw up rules for an election at their hospitals, often heartily crafting misinformed missives in the press and in letters to their workers about how the union wants to strip them of their rights. Over the past two years, various St. Joseph hospitals around the county have been charged with intimidating employees who are trying to unionize at their hospitals. The settlements have resulted in slaps on the wrist against some hospitals by the National Labor Relations Board and the mandatory requirement that they post We-Shall-Not-Intimidate statements in cafeterias and break rooms.
The latest violation against one of their employees is especially noteworthy because of the documentation that supports what are usually hard-to-prove charges made by employees who say their managers are intimidating the hell out of them.
In this case, Leonel Piña, a Respiratory Therapist at St.Jude Medical Center, was being interviewed by a hospital lawyer during a standard worker's compensation deposition when the subject suddenly turned to unions, organizing and Piña's personal involvement with unionizing activities (he's handed out fliers, talked to employees after hours, participated in meetings, all legal activities). According to the deposition documents, Sandra Adams, the lawyer for the hospital, continued with the questioning (which is illegal) for eight pages. **(check out the excerpts below)
After Piña's lawyer objected to her line of questioning, Adams insisted in the deposition that questions about whether Piña and his coworkers sought out the Service Employees International Union or tried to form their own union, were tied to the workplace injury being discussed. The deposition was conducted last August. An intimidation claim was filed against the hospital when this came to light, and the notoriously sluggish NLRB reached a settlement agreement with the hospital and the union Jan. 5.
The settlement requires that St. Jude's publicly post an NLRB statement in English and Spanish around the hospital for 60 days promising (again) not to intimidate employees or break the rules, and assuring them that they have every legal right to "join, form or assist a union."
**Excerpts from the August 28, 2008 deposition of Leonel Piña.
Q. You go to the movies or dinners or anything like that?
Q. Now, I asked if you were a union member and you said no. Have you ever been a member of a union?
A. Have I ever been a member of a union?
Q. So you've never been a member?
A. Can I ask something about that?
A. I'm participating to form a union; does that make me a union member?
Q- So the union has not been formed, yet?
Q- You're trying to participate in creating a union?
Q. Or is it that there is a union that already exists and you're participating in that union to bring it to where you work?
A. There's a union that is already set.
Q. So there is an existing union?
A. An existing union.
Q.What's the existing union's name?
Q- So this union exists, and you're working within the SEIU to try to bring it to the hospital?
A. They're supporting me to bring that union to the hospital.
Q. Are you at this time paying any kind of dues or funds to SEIU?
Q. Are you required to attend any meetings with them?
Q. How long have you been working with them?
A. Sixteen months.
Q. Sixteen months?
Q. Do you get any remuneration or anything in terms of monies or any other form of compensation from the union?
Q. And how often in the last -- well, you've been working for sixteen months. How often do you have to meet with them?
A. At least twice a month.
Q. Now, in terms -- you said you're working within to try to get a union -- well, a chapter at the hospital?
Q. And you meet with them at least -- the SEIU, at least two times a month?
Q. Aside from that, do you have to have meetings
for anything at the hospital regarding the union
A. At the hospital we pass -- yes, we pass fliers.
Q. So you pass fliers?
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.