NLRB Alleges Nurse Fired For Leading Union Organizing Campaign.
A complaint lodged by the National Labor Relations Board alleges that Steward Health Care System unlawfully fired a nurse at its Holy Family Hospital in Methuen in August for leading a union organizing drive, in a case that underscores the deterioration of once-warm relations between Steward and the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
The complaint, issued Dec. 29, also cited Steward for preventing other Holy Family nurses from wearing buttons during the summer in support of the fired nurse, Mary Ramirezcq, 61, a 40-year nursing veteran who worked at Holy Family for 18 years.
“We found reasonable cause to believe the unfair labor practices alleged in the complaint occurred,” Robert P. Redbordcq, deputy regional attorney for the NLRB, said this morningthu. The board has scheduled a hearing on the complaint against Steward for Feb. 14 before an NLRB administrative judge.
Steward denied the allegations and said it was confident the board would support its decision to fire Ramirez when the facts are presented.
“Participation in union organizing activities played no role in the decision,” said Chris Murphycq, a spokesman at the hospital chain’s corporate headquarters in Boston.
Murphy said Ramirez lost her job because she intentionally changed a doctor’s order, committed an intentional medical error, and failed to enter into a patient’s medical record that she had administered morphine — all of which had been reported to management by another nurse, he said. Another factor in the firing, Murphy said, was that Ramirez previously had been placed on probation for two years by the state Board of Registration in Nursing for diverting patient medication for her personal use.
Ramirez conceded she made a mistake by administering a drug intravenously rather than injecting it, but said the error was not intentional. The drug in question is commonly given intravenously, Ramirez said, and the patient was not harmed. She said the nurse who alerted managers to the mix-up “embellished” the story. While acknowledging she had earlier been placed on probation by the nursing board, Ramirez said no patients were harmed by her actions then, either.
Contending her firing was punishment for organizing the union drive that in July resulted in nurses electing to affiliate with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, Ramirez said she wants to be reinstated and given back pay. She also said she has long advocated for more staffing and better safety measures at Holy Family.
“I had no trouble telling management when I felt they were being unfair to the nurses or showed a lack of respect,” she said. “Right now, my goal is to just settle this matter. I want them to know that I’m not going away until the matter is settled.”
The nurses union, which supported Steward’s acquisition of six Catholic hospitals in the Caritas Christi Health Care system in 2010, has since soured on the new owner, which was created by New York private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.
MNA and Steward representatives are currently in arbitration over a dispute related to a new pension plan the two sides had agreed to in 2010, just before state regulators and the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts approved the Caritas buyout. Last month, the MNA led a protest in front of the Cerberus home office in New York.
“The whole atmosphere there is fear and intimidation,” said MNA spokesman David Schildmeiercq. “This is what happens when you turn over community assets to a for-profit private equity firm that is only interested in profits.”
Steward’s Murphy said the facts regarding Ramirez’s termination are conclusive. “We actually have a culture of quality,” he said. “And if you don’t meet the quality standards we put in place, then there’s no place for you at our hospitals.”