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Union Efforts at Antelope Valley Hospital Get a Boost

Union Efforts at Antelope Valley Hospital Get a Boost By JACQUELINE FOX Staff Reporter A divisive battle over the unionization of registered nurses at Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster (AVH) may be drawing to a close, due in part to the Nov. 5 election of two pro-union members to the facility’s governing board. Incumbents Dr. Don Bean and Gary Hill, both seeking second four-year terms on the five-member AVH Health Care District Board, which encompasses most of the Antelope Valley, were defeated by a retired AVH nurse and a doctor with the High Desert Medical Group. During their election campaigns for seats on the board that runs the 355-bed hospital, June Snow, who worked at AVH for roughly two decades, and Dr. Don Parazo promised to support the vote by the facility’s 550 nurses in September to join the California Nurses Association (CNA). According to Beth Kean, CNA organizing director, AVH nurses supported unionization “overwhelmingly.” However, because of the controversy, their votes haven’t actually been counted yet. Neither of the two newly elected board members returned calls for comment. The current district board which voted unanimously to oppose the CNA effort has spent nearly $200,000 to contest the unionization vote, saying it was invalid because nurses were not able to cast secret ballots. District members and hospital administrators have refused to take part in a ballot count, which is required under state law. That has prompted the union to file an unfair labor practices claim against the district board with the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). In early October, an administrative law judge sided with the CNA. The district is appealing the ruling. However, Kean believes it’s likely the new district will feel pressure to drop the certification appeal once the pro-union Snow and Parazo take their seats Dec. 5. “We think we have the support now we needed to move this along,” Kean said. “We have no guarantees, but we are optimistic they will be supportive.” Snow said she would “absolutely vote to drop the appeal” and believes that, regardless of the opinions of her fellow district members, the union effort and district business have nothing to do with one another. “I do not believe patient care dollars should be spent fighting legal action. The law says the union has behaved in a legal manner and the employees have as well.” AVH spokesman Ed Callahan declined to discuss the unionization effort or the election results, saying only, “we are in litigation. We don’t think it would be appropriate to comment.” Kean said her union, which represents nurses at 150 facilities across the state, was first contacted by AVH employees last year with complaints about patient-staff ratios. She and CNA representatives have been working closely with nurses and administrators since last spring and, though the September vote has yet to be certified, union-inspired proposals for changes at AVH have been part of district discussions for months. “We’ve been very, very active at AV,” said Kean. “Much of the groundwork has been laid. So, even though we aren’t officially recognized there yet, we go to board meetings and play an active role and it’s almost as if we are informally working with the district now.” Once nurses’ contracts are drafted, addressing staffing ratios and seeking ways to attract more nurses to AVH will be one of the union’s top priorities, Kean said. Meanwhile, District Attorney Steve Cooley has sent the hospital district an opinion upholding a complaint filed by Snow regarding the district board’s policy on open meetings. Snow’s complaint to Cooley claimed a pre-election vote to change the contract for CEO Mathew Abraham, which included adding provisions that make it harder to terminate him, was in violation of the Brown Act because meeting notices were not posted in a timely or accessible fashion. At that meeting, the board voted 3-2 to revise Abraham’s contract. Details of the changes are not available. Abraham did not return calls for comment. The district was slated to re-address Abraham’s contract issue at its Nov. 19 meeting, however, Snow said she was told by a board member that the issue was taken off the agenda and tabled for another meeting, possibly the one scheduled for Nov. 27.

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