Source: New Jersey Spotlight
A judge with the National Labor Relations Board ruled last week that, among other things, owners of the Meadowlands Hospital underpaid some nurses by nearly $40 an hour, improperly dismissed others with decades of experience, and threatened to close down units — prompting further job loss — if union officials shared their concerns with the press.
The ruling, which deals with issues dating back to 2011, calls on Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center to make whole the aggrieved workers, something officials with the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, which represents 300 Meadowlands employees, calculate will cost well over $2.5 million. They estimate that one in 10 NLRB decisions is this substantial.
But any payout may not come quickly. The hospital’s ownership group is desperate to sell the hospital — now struggling to attract patients — and remains locked in a dispute with New Jersey regulators over tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid fines it was assessed for failing to disclose financial information required by law. A spokesman for the hospital declined to respond to multiple requests for comment about the decision and the hospital’s ability to pay.
Several of the cost-cutting measures were at the heart of the HPAE’s complaints about labor violations. The union said workers suffered economically and emotionally when hospital leaders eliminated 12-hour shifts, in violation of their contract, dismissed longtime workers — some with three or four decades on the job — failed to contribute to the retirement plan, as promised, and replaced an existing healthcare plan with versions that cost families thousands of dollars more each year in premiums.
In addition, HPAE said the hospital abused more than a dozen “nurse interns” by paying them $7.50 an hour, instead of the $46 they were entitled to. The program lacked structure and inexperienced interns were sometimes left on their own to provide the same treatment as well-established nursing staff. Several interns testified that they would sometimes work several shifts a week at their “intern rate,” but would be paid more to do the same work at nights and weekends, if the unit was short staffed. Nursing educators from other facilities said this was far from standard protocol.
Administrative law judge Steven Davis largely agreed. In his 146-page decision, Davis ordered the hospital to pony up lost wages, missing benefits, and interest for the nurse interns and dozens of other staff members who were underpaid or wrongly dismissed. He also ordered the owners to reinstate the 12-hour shifts and adhere to the union contracts, bargaining provisions, and other employee protections going forward.
Davis also reaffirmed the workers’ right to free speech. There was testimony that union leaders caueconomic hardships for the hospital, in violation of the contract, by calling for regulatory inspections or sharing their concerns with other advocates and the media. But the judge largely dismissed their explanations, noting that even Dunaev had conceded that the information union leaders shared with the press may have been unflattering, but it was accurate.
A representative from the Department of Health, which regulates the hospital, declined to comment on the ruling.