May 26, 2011

UW found guilty of unfair labor practice over treatment of Patient Access Center (PAC) members at Harborview Medical Center

The union has won a major victory for the dedicated Local 1488 call center members at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle who were forcibly stripped of their bargaining rights in a call center consolidation – and threatened with losing their jobs if they didn’t go along.

A hearing examiner for the Public Employment Relations Commission yesterday (May 25) found the University of Washington guilty of an unfair labor practice.

The UW illegally refused to bargain the effects of the consolidation, including the removal of the Federation-represented patient services specialists’ work from the Patient Access Center (or PAC) unit to non-union positions at a new call center location in downtown Seattle, according to the decision. There were about 25 patient services specialists in the bargaining unit at Harborview.

Because of the egregious nature of the UW’s violation, the hearing examiner ordered the “extraordinary” remedy of interest arbitration within 60 days if the UW and union don’t reach agreement in bargaining over the effects of the consolidation.

The university has 20 days to appeal the unfair labor practice ruling.

The UW moved the workers from the PAC unit at Harborview to the new Virtual Front Desk call center in downtown Seattle. All were moved by Nov. 15, 2010; the UW told the employees Oct. 1 “they were no longer union members and no longer enjoyed any of the rights and benefits contained in the parties’ collective bargaining agreement.”

“The employer could have consolidated its call center operations without removing the bargaining unit from the union…,” the decision said. “It is evident that the employer unlawfully skimmed bargaining unit work.”

The ULP finding against the UW brings a measure of justice to the affected call center workers. Since the move, several have quit or been fired in an increasingly hostile work environment. Nine have filed civil rights complaints. The UW’s refusal to recognize their union rights meant the affected call center workers couldn’t have union-management meetings to address and resolve important patient and staff needs.

“The removal of the bargaining unit work was presented as a fait accompli” – a unilateral, irreversible decision, the PERC ruling said.

“While the employer did not offer new ‘benefits’ to bargaining unit members, it did indirectly threaten them with job loss,” according to the decision.

The examiner determined that the employees transferred to the new call center took on additional duties but “they continued to perform the bargaining unit work that was removed from Harborview’s Patient Access Center.”

The PERC decision concluded the employees were not “given the opportunity to engage in meaningful bargaining to ensure their continuing rights to seniority, wages and other terms and conditions of employment.”

Also, the UW “unlawfully interfered” with employee rights by communicating its decisions directly with employees – without providing the same information to the union.

“The employer also erroneously informed the bargaining unit members that it was negotiating with the union,” the decision said. “This undermined the union’s representational status, and constituted unlawful interference.”

Under the PERC order:

  • The UW must return the patient services specialists, their positions and their work to the bargaining unit.
  • The UW must bargain the effects that its consolidation decision had on the terms and conditions of employment for the patient services specialists. “While the physical relocation of the consolidated call center requires that the (patient services specialists) continue to work at the new call center location, the employer must bargain the effects” of its decision. If no agreement is reached within 60 days, the dispute goes to an arbitrator, with the UW picking up all fees and costs charged by the arbitrator.
  • The university must reinstate all wages, hours and working conditions that existed for the patient services specialists in the bargaining unit before the UW’s unlawful unilateral transfer.
  • The UW must cover all dues or fees from the improperly transferred employees.
  • The PERC order must be read at a meeting of the UW Board of Regents and included in the board’s minutes.

No comments: