HCA hospitals illegally skirted union on COVID-19 pay, labor board says

A National Labor Relations Board panel affirmed an earlier decision that three hospitals run by Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare violated labor laws when they implemented COVID-19 pay programs and other policies without first notifying and bargaining with the union.

The hospitals — Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, West Hills Hospital and Medical Center, and Riverside Community Hospital, all in California — unilaterally implemented pay programs in March 2020,without consulting SEIU Local 121RN, an affiliate of Service Employees International Union, according to the ruling. The union represents a unit of registered nurses at the hospitals and a unit of professional employees, such as social workers, speech therapists and dieticians, at Los Robles.

Riverside also violated federal labor law when it unilaterally implemented a new N95 usage and storage policy and unilaterally centralized its personal protective equipment, the labor board said.

Additionally, the labor board's order states that Los Robles unilaterally rescinded the pandemic pay program for employees of the professional unit in June 2020; withheld the 2020 annual cost of living increase from those union members; and failed to notify and bargain with the union about withholding the 2020 annual cost of living increase.

The Aug. 10 order follows a July 2022 decision by NLRB Administrative Law Judge Lisa Ross. The NLRB said it considered the decision and the record in light of exceptions and briefs from the hospitals and decided to affirm the judge's conclusions.

Rosanna Mendez, executive director of SEIU Local 121RN, praised the decision and what she deems as accountability for hospitals' actions.

Justin Crane of The Myers Law Group, legal counsel from the union, shared the following statement with Becker's: The hospitals' actions "occurred at a time when there was less scrutiny over hospitals' practices because of the unprecedented pandemic. That does not excuse the employer from following the law. In fact, this was a time when healthcare workers needed even more protection — in terms of their organizing rights, their right to be safe at work, and their rights to bargain."

HCA Healthcare Far West Division spokesperson Carmella Gutierrez told Becker's in a statement that HCA Healthcare disagrees with the labor board's decision and is evaluating its legal options.

"At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we moved quickly to have the supplies and protocols in place to protect the physical and financial security of our colleagues and their families," Ms. Gutierrez said. "This included securing and monitoring sufficient supplies of protective gear and introducing a pandemic pay program that continued paying colleagues 70 percent of their salary, even when there was no work for them due to government mandates that halted many elective procedures. 

"At a time when other health systems were laying off employees, we did not. In 2020, our pandemic pay program helped more than 127,000 HCA Healthcare colleagues support themselves and their families."

Access the full ruling here


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