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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Monday, September 10, 2007

Levy and SEIU tangle again on union drive

What does "free and fair" mean?

When it comes to union elections, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CEO Paul Levy and the Service Employees International Union don't appear to be on the same page.

They have been at odds at least since November, when on his blog Running a Hospital, Levy warned of the union's "aggressive tactics to discredit the management and the boards of hospitals who don't give in." Seven months later the union alleged the hospital had higher emergency care costs than other major Boston hospitals, and made greater use of a state pool to be reimbursed for free care it provides uninsured patients.

This time Levy is responding to letters SEIU sent to Beth Israel Deaconess physicians. In the Aug. 21 messages, the union says it has asked the hospital to promise not to spend patient-care funds on anti-union activity, as part of a "free and fair election code of conduct" during its campaign to represent health-care workers.

"While it is awkward to impute another's motivation, it appears that the letter has three purposes," Levy wrote in his Friday night post. "First, to obfuscate the statements made by management of hospitals about this issue. Second, to present a revisionist view of what the union itself has said in other forums -- like in the US Congress, where it has strenuously argued for an elimination of elections. Third, to attempt to drive a wedge between the management and a hospital's physicians by using these mischaracterizations and appealing to the doctors' underlying sense of fairness and fondness for the workers in the hospital."

Levy says that the election process is already governed by National Labor Relations Board rules as well as hospital guidelines that support "a free and fair election," posting the hospital policy on union activities. He also refers to union efforts to replace secret ballot elections with a card-check process, in which workers would sign a card to certify a union.

The union responded this afternoon, saying Levy "continues to parrot the Bush Administration's talking points in the way he mischaracterizes Senator Kennedy's ... bill, which was not the subject of our letter."

"Despite Mr. Levy's attempts to obfuscate what many hospital workers throughout Boston are actually asking for, our message is clear," SEIU executive vice president Mike Fadel said in an e-mail. "Hospital workers across the city are calling for free and fair union secret ballot elections, which include a code of conduct agreed to by employers to ensure their right to vote is not interfered with by hospital management."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:46 PM
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