NEW YORK NURSE: February 2008
Q.: We currently are negotiating a successor collective bargaining agreement at our facility and management seems to be unnecessarily dragging out negotiations. They have refused to agree to even the simplest of our proposals, the attorney they hired as their chief spokesperson at the table is often disrespectful, they will not agree to meet more than two or three times a month, and sometimes they even cancel the negotiating sessions. I know that under the National Labor Relations Act, parties have a duty to bargain in good faith. Can we file an unfair labor practice charge against the hospital for failure to bargain in good faith?
A.: It is often difficult to prove that an employer is not bargaining in good faith. The text of the NLRA states that the parties must “meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment[.]” The National Labor Relations Board has taken this to mean that the employer is not required to agree to even the most reasonable union proposals. Therefore, in order to prove “bad faith bargaining” on the part of an employer, a union has to show employer intent – proof that management does not want to come to an agreement.
As you can imagine, this is a difficult thing to do. You need to show a pattern of behavior that indicates an unwillingness to reach agreement. There are exceptions, commonly referred to as per se violations of the duty to bargain in good faith. These include actions such as refusing to reduce an agreement to writing, refusing to provide relevant information, or making a unilateral change in a mandatory subject of bargaining (such as wages or health benefits). These kinds of violations are rare, however.
Further, even if you can prove your case, the NLRB process can take years. In most cases, the best way to “incentivize” an employer to get the contract done is through job actions and other forms of non-NLRB pressure. This is why it is important to have a complete advance negotiation strategy worked out with your labor and nurse representatives.
The NYSNA EGW Program receives many inquiries each month from members who have problems in their workplaces. If you have a question about labor relations at your facility, contact your NYSNA nursing representative. If you have a question you think should be featured in this column, send it to RNs at Work, NYSNA, 120 Wall Street, 23rd Floor, New York, N.Y. 10005.