By MIKE HINMAN
Daily News reporter
Dissident nurses at Alaska Regional Hospital
have petitioned to decertify the union that represents them, saying
the union hasn't made enough progress in obtaining a permanent
contract. Before a decertification vote can take place,
the National Labor Relations Board must give its approval. The
agency must decide if an interim contract reached by the union,
Laborers Local 341, and the hospital is a legitimate collective
bargaining agreement and, if it is, whether it prevents the nurses
from holding a decertification vote at this time.
An NLRB official held a hearing on the matter
Wednesday. The agency's regional director in Seattle could make
a decision on a decertification vote in two weeks, said Norm Hayashi,
the NLRB's hearing officer. The nurses filed the decertification petition
April 19, a week after the interim contract was signed. At least
30 percent of the bargaining unit's roughly 215 nurses were required
to sign the petition to force the issue to a vote. The petition drive started in March, long
before the agreement was signed, said Susan Schapira, spokeswoman
for the dissident nurses.
The nurses are also upset with the suddenness
of the interim contract, which they believe is worse than a contract
that was rejected in May 1998, and with a lack of communication
between the union and its nurses, Schapira said. "We feel the union has not represented
the nurses well," Schapira said at the hearing.
The hospital and the dissident nurses debated
the need for the interim agreement during Wednesday's hearing.
The hospital's attorney said it wanted some
sort of agreement to prevent the kind of labor problems that have
occurred at Providence Alaska Medical Center, where nurses went
on strike April 15. The interim contract has a no strike/no lockout
clause. "We needed to have an assurance of stability,"
said Mallory Phillips, Alaska Regional's attorney.
The nurses countered that they had already
agreed not to strike while negotiations continued. That was not good enough, Phillips said.
The hospital needed a legally binding document, not just the negotiator's
word. He said the hospital also wanted a "market
correction" to its nurses' wages to keep the hospital competitive
in retaining and recruiting nurses. The increases were not an across-the-board
raise and were given to about half of the nurses. The others have
not received a raise since the nurses voted to unionize in September
1996, Phillips said.
The interim agreement calls for both sides to continue negotiations until a final agreement is reached. Issues not covered in the agreement include pay raises for the nurses who didn't receive the market correction, shift differentials and staffing issues, said Mano Frey, business manager of Local 341.