On January 7th, nursing staff represented by the New York State Nurses Association demonstrated outside Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville. Those participating were then locked out for four days until the following Monday. Demonstrations continued until workers were let back in.
The union, which represents about 150 nurses at the Fulton County hospital, says the move was illegal and brought its case to the National Labor Relations Board. NLRB has agreed to take up the case.
Tara Martin is a spokeswoman for NYSNA.
“The NLRB agents heard our side, they heard their side — the hospital management’s side — and they agreed with us and said that there is a possibly the lockout could’ve been illegal and now we’re going to trial.”
A trial date is set for April 18th before an administrative law judge of the National Labor Relations Board.
NLRB Resident Officer Barney Horowitz says after investigating, the board determined that Nathan Liattuer locked out the employees who demonstrated without a business justification for doing so.
“In other words, it could, under certain circumstances, perhaps have locked out employees, but it requires such a justification. It didn’t have one here and our conclusion is it instituted its lockout in retaliation for the employees’ activity in supporting the union and it instituted the lockout to discourage employees from engaging in these activities going forward,” said Horowitz.
Horowitz said the case is unusual, and that in his 41 years with the Board, it is the first such complaint of its kind issued in the Albany office.
In a prepared statement, hospital spokeswoman Cheryl McGrattan said, “Nathan Littauer acted lawfully in imposing the lockout and is confident the judge will agree. We are also confident the judge will reject NYSNA’s insistence that nurses be allowed to wear buttons stating ‘Coming Soon: NYSNA RN Strike’ while caring for our patients.” The hospital suggests such buttons place stress upon patients.
The nurses represented by NYSNA have been without a contract for two years. Martin says the sticking point in the negotiations has been staffing levels, which the union claims are inadequate.
“There’s just not enough of us there. And we just believe that we cannot settle a contract that does not resolve that problem. We feel that, primarily, hospitals are there to serve its people. And if people are not getting served, there’s something very wrong with that,” said Martin.
The hospital countered, saying that even as the union claims staffing is an issue, “it has withdrawn all proposals to increase staffing.”
McGrattan says, “In contrast, the National Labor Relations Board’s Office of the General Counsel recently found it was NYSNA’s ‘complete departure from its initial bargaining proposal’ that had a ‘dispiriting effect’ on bargaining and ‘created a wide gulf between the parties.’”
In March, the hospital reached a collective bargaining agreement with union 1199SEIU, which represents 400 workers at the Fulton County facilities. The four-year contract ensures wages, pensions and employer contributions to healthcare. The union represents about 40 percent of the hospital’s workforce.
“We are very happy that our brothers and sisters in 1199 were able to secure a new contract with Nathan Littauer. It does make us very hopeful that we can resolve this and have a fair contract for us.”
McGrattan says the hospital hopes NYSNA “will abandon its unreasonable positions and agree to the hospital’s fair and reasonable proposals for a new contract.”