Enloe employees await final word on representation

ALL OVER BUT THE COUNTING Enloe employees gathered April 2 in the Esplanade Building across the street from the hospital. As representatives from Enloe and the SEIU prepared to witness the ballot-counting, uniformed security guards patrolled the area.

ALL OVER BUT THE COUNTING Enloe employees gathered April 2 in the Esplanade Building across the street from the hospital. As representatives from Enloe and the SEIU prepared to witness the ballot-counting, uniformed security guards patrolled the area.

Photo By Tom Angel

Hundreds of Enloe Medical Center employees expect to be represented by a union, after a vote late last week saw nearly all of the about-1,100 eligible workers turn out.

With Enloe administrators saying two units are too close to call, the Service Employees International Union 250 is calling it good, claiming a win for the Service Employees Unit and the Business Office Clerical unit.

In the Service Employees Unit, 260 members voted in favor of the union, while 237 voted against and 25 ballots were challenged. In the Business Office Clerical Unit, 55 voted against the union, 61 voted for it and 15 ballots were challenged. Those are the units Enloe is calling “undetermined” and that the SEIU says will ultimately fall in its favor. Technical employees voted 132 to 79, with five challenges, to forgo the union. Food services and housekeeping employees voted, as separate groups, to secure union representation, but since they were outsourced to Compass Group USA last year, they’ll have to battle out a contract with that corporation. (Compass representatives did not return a call for comment.)

“Until the votes are certified, there is no official outcome,” said Pam Sime, Enloe’s director of human resources.

The National Labor Relations Board must also sift through challenges and consider charges of unfair labor practices, due to the federal agency by April 9. Until that process is complete, Sime said, Enloe administration won’t be negotiating formally with the union or the groups that apparently voted it in.

The large turnout left no question that the issue is hot on the minds of Enloe workers.

But this campaign played in sharp contract with the last effort of Enloe employees to unionize.

Dan Neumeister, Enloe’s chief operations officer, said the hospital administration made a conscious effort to stay out of the election process. He said Enloe learned its lesson to stay out of the fray when the registered nurses voted for union representation three years ago.

At the time Enloe hired the Burke Group, a Malibu-based public relations, firm to fight union organization by running an aggressive anti-union campaign. But in the process, Enloe, the city’s second-largest employer behind Chico State University, damaged its credibility in the community and with many of its employees. Neumeister was branded “Dan, Dan, the Hatchet-man,” by Enloe nurses.

As evidence of a kinder, gentler election this time, Neumeister said, “the employees are still talking to [the administration].”

Ann Prater, Enloe’s director of communications, said the hospital doesn’t consider the vote “a victory or a loss.”

Still, their hope was that employees would see the benefits of remaining what the administration persistently calls “union-free.”

“We believe we do best when we work with one another without bringing in outside forces,” Sime said.

Some pro-union employees resented the fact that Enloe was allowed to distribute anti-union materials at will but the pro-union folks could only due so under limited rules.

“The law is very clear,” Sime said. “We followed the law.”

For Ron Taylor, a respiratory therapist, it’s a bittersweet day. He spent many hours on the pro-union effort, but ultimately his unit voted to stay out.

“I’m pleased that the union has got their foot in the door now,” said Taylor, who got involved in the effort after seeing how housekeeping and food service employees suffered deteriorating health care and benefits after their departments were outsourced.

Taylor blames a “corporation mentality” that he says overtook the nonprofit hospital after the administration shifted from a friendly, hometown leader several years ago.

In contrast, other employees worried that a union would just make things worse—and charge employees for the privilege.

Debi Yeager, a licensed vocational nurse who is also in the technical employees unit, was relieved when the majority of her coworkers sided against the union.

“I have a real problem with [the union’s] saying they use about having a voice,” she said. If the union had prevailed, “my voice would be theirs. I don’t see why I should pay someone to tell me what to do.”

She felt that both sides got a chance to get the information out, and even workers who disagree with one another have been able to remain friends.

“I feel sorry that they’re celebrating before they know what they got themselves into,” she said.

Neumeister said the NLRB, which oversaw the elections, may have screwed things up; NLRB representatives, he said, gave the wrong ballot to at least four employees.

“How many others received the wrong ballot?” he asked.

Taylor, the pro-union respiratory therapist, predicts that the challenges will result in a shift toward representation for the two units in question.

“They [hospital administration] seem disappointed and we seem elated," he said. "They’re gonna fight it tooth and nail."