Judge Rules for Nurses on Rest and Break Time and Access to Information about Staff Turnover
DETROIT – In the latest in a series of victories for nurses at Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital (HVSH), Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Arthur J. Amchan of the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that the hospital has committed ongoing violations of U.S. labor law. HVSH, based in Commerce Township, Michigan, is a unit of the Detroit Medical Center (DMC). DMC is owned by Dallas, Texas-based Tenet Healthcare.
Following a March 5 trial in Detroit, the judge found that the hospital violated the law when it changed its prior practicepermittingemergency room nurses to combine meal breaks and rest breaks, ensuring they have enough time during 12-hour shifts to recuperate and provide full attention and quality care to patients.
ALJ Amchan’s recommended order, issued on April 29, permits breaks for nurses to be covered, as in the past, by other bargaining unit nurses rather than clinical coordinators. It will also allow any RN who suffered economic loss as a result of an illegal change in policy to receive full back pay, with accrued interest.
The judge also found that MNA is entitled to access to information collected by hospital management about why RNs leave their jobs at HVHS.ALJ Amchan ruled that this data is directly relevant to nurses’ right to collective bargaining:
A major issue in negotiations was safe staffing. The Union contended this was a reason that many nurses were leaving Huron Valley. Respondent denied this and for this reason the Union requested copies of the completed exit interviews.
“Our patients are the big winners,” said Kathleen Lehman, a recovery nurse at Huron Valley and president of the Professional Nursing Association of Huron Valley Sinai Hospital (PNA-HVSH), affiliated with the Michigan Nurses Association (MNA). “When nurses are well-rested, we can take better care of our patients.And once we know more about why nurses are leaving, we can create better strategies to keep good people here.”
According to uncontradicted trial testimony, Huron Valley executives unfairly limited rest breaks to 30 minutes because of “anger” at a union representative. Retaliation against workers who exercise their workplace rights is a serious violation of U.S. labor law. PNA-HVSH member Tina Grossman, ALJ Amchan found, “was discriminated against due to her status as a unit member and union member.”
“The snap decision management made out of anger was just wrong,” said Grossman. “I am glad I had the support of my union to speak up for the unit nurses and union representative to correct this injustice. If our union has to follow the mutually agreed upon rules so should management.”
“I hope Huron Valley executives – and their bosses at Tenet Healthcare in Texas – get the message,” said MNA Executive Director John Karebian. “You can’t break the law. You can’t trample the rights of nurses. You can’t ignore our concerns about safe staffing.”
“There are some good laws on the books that protect workers’ rights – but no law enforces itself,” said Karebian. “When you’re a member of MNA, you’ve got resources, tools and a team to make the law effective and win real improvements on the job.”
PNA-HVSH represents 350 RNs at Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital. Nurses voted to organize a union in March 2016 and ratified a first contract agreement in November 2018, including wage increases, safe staffing language and important job protections.
Prior to the March 5th, 2019 trial, Huron Valley management settled several unfair labor practice complaints, issued by the NLRB, on terms favorable to PNA-HVSH nurses. The settlement included rescinding a memo preventing nurses from wearing “safe staffing” buttons; allowing MNA members access to union representatives; providing necessary and relevant information to MNA; and bargaining in good faith with Huron Valley RNs through MNA.
Under terms of ALJ Amchan’s April 29 recommended order, Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital is required to post a notice in conspicuous locations in the hospital stating, in part:
WE WILL NOT enforce our prohibition against combining meal and other breaks without negotiating such a prohibition with the Michigan Nurses Association.
WE WILL NOT cover meal breaks with clinical coordinators instead of bargaining unit nurses without negotiating such a practice with the Michigan Nurses Association.
WE WILL NOT apply a rule threatening discipline against unit employees for missing breaks without negotiating such a rule with the Michigan Nurses Association.
WE WILL NOT retaliate against bargaining unit members on account of the conduct of union representatives.
WE WILL NOT refuse to provide the Michigan Nurses Association with relevant information…
WE WILL NOT in any other manner interfere with or restrain, or coerce you in the exercise of the rights guaranteed you by Section 7 of [the National Labor Relations] Act…
WE WILL make whole with accrued interest any nurse who suffered an economic loss by virtue of the change in policy regarding the coverage of breaks.
A copy of ALJ Amchan’s decision, including language of the recommended notice to HVSH nurses, is available here.
The Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) is the largest, most effective union for registered nurses in Michigan, advocating for nurses and their patients at the State Capitol, in the community, and at the bargaining table.
Contact: Dawn Kettinger, 517.721.9688