HUNTINGTON — With less than a week to go before nurses at Cabell Huntington Hospital vote whether or not to form a union, those leading the charge to unionize say the hospital administration is pulling nurses off duty to talk them out of voting in favor of the idea.

Nurses at the hospital announced their plan to seek union representation in October, hand-delivering a petition asking the hospital to extend union coverage to the 900 registered nurses — a request that was denied.

Those in favor of unionizing cite short staffing, mandatory overtime and changes since the merging of Cabell Huntington and St. Mary’s Medical Center as to why they need collective bargaining rights.

Since mobilizing, nurses now say they are being subjected to what representatives from the Service Employees International Union 1199 say are “union busting” tactics.

“Administration has spent quite a bit of money hiring union busters, who they call educators, to come to our units,” said Stacey Bias, a critical care nurse, at a news conference with SEIU representatives. “At times they have held meetings at nurses’ desks inappropriately and unprofessionally. In those meetings there is a lot of aggression and intimidation. It has scared a lot of our nurses. Fortunately for the SEIU and our nurses, those tactics have angered nurses so much that they have changed their minds if they were on the fence and they are all for voting yes for our union.”

Bias said while the educators should be sharing facts with nurses and answering questions, instead they are argumentative and aggressive.

“In one meeting, it was told to our staff, ‘Look at our housekeeping department. They have a union and they are still not happy with staffing. What does that tell you?’ They went on to say that the housekeeping staff were uneducated people,” Bias said. “I work with these people every day. They make the hospital run.”

Sherri McKinney, organization director for SEIU 1199, said nurses have been pulled from duty, including from critical care and intensive care units, and asked questions such as their stance on abortion and other political beliefs.

In a statement to The Herald-Dispatch, Cabell Huntington Hospital CEO and President Kevin Fowler said SEIU seized an opportunity to launch a campaign with an “unfair attack on the quality of care nurses provide at CHH” when the hospital announced all employees would need to begin paying medical premiums.

“The National Labor Relations Board states that it is each employee’s responsibility to determine if the information they are receiving is true or a tactic to get them to join the SEIU,” Fowler said. “The SEIU cannot guarantee better pay, benefits or staffing. The truth is the SEIU cannot affect any of these issues. If the SEIU wins the election, nothing is guaranteed.”

Fowler said the hospital has an obligation to educate and address the facts, so the hospital hired experienced consultants — former union organizers for SEIU — to guide them through the process to ensure employees are fully informed and their rights are protected.

“CHH felt it had to take steps to educate our nurses because SEIU is spreading false information about the hospital and the quality of care our nurses provide every day,” Fowler said. “To ensure patient care has not been interfered with in any way, leadership members have been rounding on the units. While CHH has the right under the law to hold mandatory meetings, all of the educational meetings have been voluntary. I’m disappointed by these assertions and behavior from the SEIU given our long history of working together.”

Fowler said all the meetings have been done in a professional and appropriate manner. He said he believes they can all work together to strengthen the hospital’s nursing team without a third party getting in between them.

Bias, however, disagrees.

“The union did not approach us,” Bias said. “We approached the union. We asked them for help. We want to make sure everyone’s questions and concerns are answered, and that everyone makes an educated vote.”

The National Labor Relations Board will be at the hospital Tuesday, Nov. 12, and Wednesday, Nov. 13, to oversee the voting.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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