At the same time the Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital (MDMH) administration was deciding who stays and who goes, it was also slammed by two unfair labor practice charges filed by the nascent nurses union, which has accused the hospital administration of failing to bargain in good faith and of wrongly claiming that union negotiations had reached an impasse.
The registered nurses, who joined with the Montana Nurses Association in January, have been negotiating with the administration for a contract since the spring, according to Jim Kobe, a field examiner with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Seattle. No contract agreement has been reached, he says, and the hospital administration is now claiming that negotiations have, in fact, broken down.
The union disputes that claim, saying that the administration has not been bargaining in good faith. Now it’s up to the NLRB to sort out the facts. Two weeks ago an NLRB investigator was in Hamilton to question both sides in the dispute.
When the investigation is complete—which Kobe says may not be until the end of the year—the NLRB will have to decide whether the twin charges have any merit. If there is no merit to the charges, the union can appeal to NLRB headquarters in Washington, D.C. If, however, there is sufficient evidence to show that MDMH violated the National Labor Relations Act and did not bargain with the union in good faith, then the administration has two options: It can either settle with the NLRB and go back to the bargaining table, or it can request a formal hearing before an administrative law judge.
In the meantime, the administration and the union must continue to bargain, says Kobe. “It’s not like during this investigation they can suspend all legal obligations,” he says. “The duty to bargain in good faith is always there.”
MDMH administrator John Bartos disputes the charges made against the hospital. “This hospital negotiated to the best of its ability with the RNs. We believe we gave them the maximum we could provide” in light of the current economic problems that prompted the decision to lay off or cut hours to 25 employees. “We did the best we could. We were fair.”