Don't Be Fooled by St. Charles' Smokescreen | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Don't Be Fooled by St. Charles' Smokescreen

Rather than bargain in good faith with its employees for a union contract, St. Charles management decided to take advantage of the close vote.

There is no question that union elections often pit worker against worker. Employees at St. Charles voted by a very slim margin to join SEIU Local 49 last year. It was a democratic election and, like elections for City Council or any other public office, majority prevailed. But St. Charles decided to ignore that democratic vote.

Rather than bargain in good faith with its employees for a union contract, St. Charles management decided to take advantage of the close vote. Management knew that if it could stall and refuse to negotiate a contract, a decertification election would be legally possible a year after the initial vote for the union.

St. Charles could have taken the high road and bargained in good faith for a union contract. They have done so many times with their nurses in Bend, Redmond and even Prineville. In Prineville they didinitially refuse to bargain andforced a decertification election. But they quickly agreed to a union contract after nurses there soundly rejected the decert.

If St. Charles had bargained in good faith with its employees in SEIU Local 49, a contract would be in place and tensions would have eased. Instead, St. Charles was willing to ratchet up the tension in order to force a decert and undermine the democratic election held last year.

While it was disgruntled St. Charles workers who filed for the decert, it would be naive to think management didn't have a hand in pushing it along. In over 30 years of union activism I have yet to see a decert election that wasn't prodded along by management in one way or another.

When we talk about worker vs. worker at St. Charles it is important to recognize who benefits from this tension. Certainly not the workers themselves, as employees on both sides can tell you. It is management that ultimately benefits. How?

Well, as Lewis and Clark Professor Henry Drummonds notes in the Source article, "When you don't have that collective bargaining power, through time, you would expect the working conditions for employees to deteriorate." In other words, withouta contract bargained between the employees and the employer, the employees can expect lower pay, fewer benefits, working conditions that get worse, and - at a hospital - a downgrade in the quality of patient care.

St. Charles management apparently believes it is better to spend thousands of dollars on anti-union consultants than it is to spend money on employees who work hard and deserve better pay and benefits, a voice in workplace decisions, and working conditions that increase the quality of patient care. Keeping employees divided always benefits the employer. Always.

There will always be some employees who want to go it alone and don't want to work collectively with their fellow employees to improve living standards and working conditions for all. Often, they come around to the union side after a contract is negotiated and they see the benefits of a union. St. Charles knows that and doesn't want to see that kind of unity in its workforce. Because, if that happens, it won't be worker vs. worker, it will beemployees working togetherto bargain a contract that benefits everyone. If, however, the prevailing sentiment is to get rid of the union, everyone will pay a price down the road. You can take that to the bank.

Michael Funke, Bend

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