Labor Board Complaint is Latest in Series of Troubles for Meadowlands Hospital

Andrew Kitchenman | June 4, 2013 | Health Care
Complaint alleges unfair labor practices in dealings with union, seeks back pay

Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center engaged in a series of unfair labor practices, according to a complaint lodged yesterday by the National Labor Relations Board.

The complaint by the board’s regional office alleges that the hospital laid off union members without negotiating, misclassified workers to avoid paying union wages and failed to pay workers’ medical claims. An administrative law judge is scheduled to hold a hearing on the complaint on July 9.

“This is probably the most serious situation that I’ve experienced,” said Ann Twomey, president of the Health Professionals & Allied Employees (HPAE), a union that represents 295 nurses, technicians and service workers at the hospital. Her union estimated that the hospital owes workers $4 million in back pay.

Hospital officials maintained that the complaint was the result of unfounded union allegations. They expressed confidence that the administrative law judge will rule in their favor.

While the hospital is cooperating with the NLRB, “this complaint is the latest in a series of false and frivolous claims put forth by the union’s ongoing and reckless agenda against the hospital,” according to a hospital statement.

Hospital owner MHA LLC has faced a series of government actions in recent months, including having $4.46 million in federal tax liens placed on the hospital and agreeing to hire an outside fiscal monitor.

Sen. Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex) said the complaint reflects a pattern for the hospital.

“In all my years here, I’ve never observed an institution have this many self-inflicted problems,” said Vitale, who joined the Senate in 1998.

Union officials pointed out that administrative law judges rule in favor of the board in more than 90 percent of recent cases.

A potential complicating factor is that if the administrative law judge upholds the complaint, the hospital could appeal to the national labor board in Washington, D.C. The board’s ability to issue decisions has been hampered by a dispute between President Obama and Republican members of Congress over board vacancies .

Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations Dean Susan J. Schurman noted that the national board’s actions remain in question until a court case about the vacancies is resolved.

“The larger question is, of course, whether anything that the board does right now is going to have any meaning given the status of the board,” Schurman said.

It’s relatively rare for complaints to be filed by board staff members. In 2012, there were 1,314 complaints based on 21,629 unfair labor practice charges. This amounted to 6 percent of cases.

New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech said he was pleased that the board office filed the complaint, adding that Meadowlands’ owner “from Day One was on a mission of getting rid of the union.”

HPAE policy director Jeanne Otersen said the complaint shows the hospital owners’ “willingness to take their profits out of the people that provide patient care. It has been an attempt to silence patient advocates in their workplace.”

Union officials note that the administrative law judge could decide that the hospital must offer to rehire 50 workers who the union claims were wrongly laid off.

Hospital officials said in a statement that the complaint followed “a series of recent arbitrations that have been decided in favor of the hospital. Despite these baseless claims, the hospital continues its commitment to providing quality clinical care, while making its patients and the community its top priority.”

Otersen countered by noting that the union won the most recent arbitration case, adding that the NLRB complaint has nothing to do with arbitration cases.