Unfair labor charges against IU Health to get hearing

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The federal government will give a full hearing to charges of unfair labor practices leveled at Indiana University Health by nurses trying to organize a union at IU Health’s Methodist Hospital.

The National Labor Relations Board notified the United Steelworkers union of its decision late last month, according to a letter from regional director Rik Lineback.

That decision does not mean IU Health has been found to have done anything wrong. But last year, only 38 percent of all unfair labor charges against employers proceeded to this stage, according to data from the NLRB. Messages left for an NLRB spokeswoman were not returned.

According to documents filed with the NLRB, the Steelworkers union claims IU Health broke the law when it fired Lacie Little, a registered nurse who was helping distribute vote cards to other nurses, and when it disciplined Heather Bragg, another nurse leading the union organization.

The union also claims IU Health’s managers have intimidated nurses, improperly questioned nurses about the union, enforced its disciplinary policies inconsistently, maintained overly broad policies against solicitation of union support, and created “an impression of surveillance.”

“We really need to push back on IU Health’s illegal activities,” said Randa Ruge, a Steelworkers organizer.

The Steelworkers scheduled a rally and press conference on Friday afternoon to highlight the unfair labor practice charges.

“What we want to do is call attention to this and call for Lacie Little to be reinstated,” Ruge said.

Since her firing, Little has been working for the Steelworkers trying to garner enough support to get the NLRB to hold a vote to form a union. Ruge said Little’s firing slowed the union’s progress. It now hopes to hold a vote in July—compared with a previous prediction of April or May.

In a written statement provided by spokeswoman Lauren Cislak, IU Health officials dismissed the Steelworkers’ charges as a tactic and a sign of desperation.

“Alleging wrongdoing is a common tactic used by unions during organizing campaigns, particularly when the union is having difficulty getting employees interested in unionization,” the statement said. “IU Health has not received a complaint by the NLRB, meaning they have not found that IU Health has done anything questionable. A complaint simply is notification from a federal agency informing all parties involved that the process will proceed since the union’s charges have not been withdrawn, dismissed or settled.”

Cislak also noted that IU Health officials have received reports of union organizers trying to intimidate IU Health employees who speak out against the union and of making surprise visits to nurses’ homes to gain support for a union vote.

“We are cooperating fully with the NLRB to address the union’s allegations,” the IU Health statement said. “It is uncertain how long this process will take, but it may be weeks or months.”

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