NEWARK — Soon after the nearly-bankrupt Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center in Secaucus was bought in December 2010, the new owners alerted staff they intended to cut jobs.
The union, Health Professionals and Allied Employees, said they expected the owners to recognize the seniority of the workforce they had inherited and lay off the last person hired. But the owners said they considered everyone a new employee as of Dec. 7, the date of the sale. An arbiter agreed with the owners and 20 people were later laid off.
Now after three years of grievances and bitter accusations covered by the press, an administrative law judge will decide whether the owners, MHA, LLC, have engaged in illegal union-busting tactics that also cost people their jobs and denied them benefits. A trial began today and is expected to last until January.
Meadowlands has “failed to abide by its contractual and bargaining obligations in a broad and ongoing way,” said Benjamin Green, general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, which investigated the union’s claims, found they had merit and is presenting its case.
MHA’s attorney Jeffrey Corradino urged Judge Steven Davis to consider the union’s “relentless campaign to put economic pressure on the hospital and to dissuade the public from using its services.”
The union violated its contractual obligations not to stage a strike or a boycott, or interfere with hospital operations when it conducted numerous press conferences, issued press releases, and held candlelight vigils, Corradino said.
“With its relentless campaign, the union is responsible for any breakdown in the bargaining relationship,” he said.
Among the charges, the union took issue with Meadowlands “nurse internship” program that began in 2011. Management hired an unknown number of RNs who came in certified to work with patients, but paid them minimum wage, union representative Carlton Levine testified. They worked as any other nurse would.
“They should have been treated as fully qualified members of the bargaining unit and the employer refused to do that,” Levine said.
Levine said the owners were obligated to share information about how many interns were hired, but Meadowlands never complied, he said.
The union said Richard Lipsky, a co-owner of the hospital, threatened not to resolve any disputes with the union " if the union continued to engage in protected activity through the media,” according to Green’s opening statement
Before the hearing got underway this afternoon, the hospital agreed to settle a number of alleged offenses accusing Meadowlands of discouraging union activities. A notice will be posted in the hospital outlining an employee’s rights under their labor contract, according to the settlement.
The hospital agreed it "will not fail to process employees' claims for prescription drugs," or "fail to make funds available for payment of medical claims" or "fail to schedule grievance" hearings and arbitrations, according to a statement by HPAE Policy Director Jeanne Otersen.
The hospital also agreed to stop "creating the false impression that management is using cameras to watch and listen to union activities," Oterson’s statement said.