Voting begins today for former University employees at Fairview-University Medical Center to determine whether a union will survive the hospital’s privatization.
About 1,300 former American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees members and University employees will vote today and Thursday on whether to retain membership in a union that has existed as AFSCME Local 1164 since 1975. The group officially dissolved in January when University Hospital merged with Fairview Medical Center under Fairview management.
“We’re trying to make the union official again,” said ASFCME representative Gladys MacKenzie.
While union activists are fighting hard to retain their union privileges, former AFSCME member Lynne Okani is glad to be under Fairview’s management because, she said, AFSCME hasn’t lived up to its objectives.
“They were so sure they’d stop the merger that they didn’t plan for what would happen when it went through,” said Okani, formerly a University account specialist now employed by Fairview. Okani said she hasn’t received any information from AFSCME about when or how to vote in today’s union election.
Okani said she likes Fairview’s management style better than the collective bargaining structure of AFSCME.
“I got a cost-of-living increase, and you can go talk to (managers) with no consequences,” she said. “I’d like to give them a chance.”
AFSCME activists say that Fairview’s anti-union campaign has cost them the votes of former members like Okani.
Because employees are now in the private sector rather than the public, as they were at the University, federal rather than state laws govern a union campaign. Labor laws control all aspects of the conduct of an election, including how much anti-union campaigning the employer can engage in.
For example, when University faculty members were campaigning for collective bargaining in fall 1996, a state office issued a cease-and-desist order to the University that prevented it from campaigning against the union.
Because Fairview is a private company, however, AFSCME can’t apply for a status quo order.
“The only rule is that Fairview can’t hold a captive-audience meeting 24 hours before the (election)” to dissuade employees from voting for a union, said Richard R. Anderson, acting director of the National Labor Relations Board, Minneapolis office. “They could still mail (anti-union) pamphlets to employees or whatever else.”
Fairview has been putting out fliers and pamphlets on company letterhead that read “vote ‘no’ to AFSCME” almost weekly for about the past month.
“Fairview’s preference is that employees deal directly with their employer,” said Fairview Public Relations Director Jean Tracy.
AFSCME Local President Geoff Hahn said the federal rules have allowed Fairview to campaign directly against the union.
“There is this loophole that has resulted in an organizing drive to eliminate the union,” Hahn said.
Hahn said the relative lack of restrictions against Fairview has also led to the company’s hiring of what he calls a “union-busting firm” to defeat the union drive.
Fairview retained the services of Management Sciences Associates, a firm based in Independence, Mo., in March.
“They were hired to help with communication with employees,” Tracy said.
However, Hahn cited a pamphlet distributed by Fairview supervisors on company letterhead that reads, “One vote made Adolph Hitler head of the Nazi Party,” referring to the 50 percent, plus-one-vote majority needed to elect AFSCME as the employees’ collective bargaining representative. The letter is similar to materials distributed during union votes at other hospitals that had retained Management Sciences in the past.
“I don’t know how they could sink any lower,” said Hahn.
Employees can vote in Room 8-106, on the eighth floor of Unit J of the medical center from 6 to 9 a.m. and from noon to 6:30 p.m.