Christus: Union busters from Dallas?

& It looks like the nurses and technicians at Christus St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe are headed for the picket lines.

The hospital’s contract with the local district of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees is going to expire in 13 days, and even though the union would rather keep talking instead of start walking, it doesn’t look like the hospital bosses are interested.

Looks to me like the Christus Health management — a bunch of Catholic hospital accumulators who rode into town from Texas about three years ago waving Christian banners and loudly proclaiming fealty to dignity, integrity and compassion– is more interested in busting the union than in trusting it.

It’s a long and complex story, of course, some of which you can get by reading a good late-week wrapup from the Albuquerque Journal, or this article or an earlier one, in the Santa Fe New Mexican, or the Santa Fe Reporter’s story on the major point of contention, or by browsing around in Steve Stockdale’s exhaustive compilation of The Christus Files, or even by reading a little something I wrote about it a few days back. And, for an occasionally updated site from the union forces, try this.

To bring you up to date: The union reps, saying they are willing to extend the contract until the end of July to give the Christus gang time to get their act together and put some meaningful proposals on the negotiating table — particularly about understaffing and overworking of nurses — have gotten an answer back from management that is exceeded in its arrogance only by its clumsiness.

Christus, according to reports I’ve gotten, says it will agree to an extension with certain conditions. One of them is that the union agrees to no public demonstrations — marches, rallies, etc. — during the time of continued negotiations.

That’s interesting, given the fact that union members just on Tuesday were having a discussion with a bunch of Santa Fe citizens — a community group, you might call it — about an evening “flashlight vigil” and walk to the hospital to demonstrate support for the union members.

The arrogant part, of course, is the Christus notion that the citizens of Santa Fe would even entertain the idea of giving up their rights to freedom of speech and assembly. You get to wondering just how much these boys from Dallas think they can get away with, or just how little regard they have for the intelligence of New Mexicans. (Maybe it’s because they’re from Texas, which lately seems to have a different view of the U.S. Constitution than the rest of us have. Wasn’t the governor talking about seceding from the union just a few months ago? That’s another story).

The clumsy part: What better way is there of raising a noisy crowd of people than telling them that they can’t be a noisy crowd? (Note to Christus public relations flaks: Schedule some public sensitivity training for your management guys.)

The union rejected the condition. As far as I know, that demonstration is still planned (see updates to event schedules below), and might now be bigger now than anybody had envisioned — it’s set to begin at 6:30 p.m. next Friday — the 24th — at the Rose Garden on Cordova. (Why they need flashlights, I don’t know, I don’t think the sun sets on that date until it’s about ready to come back up again. But that’s another story.)

I expect there’ll be a big crowd there. I expect I’ll be in it.

And I expect that I won’t be alone in thinking that Christus — which has 40 or 50 or 60 hospitals in its portfolio and no unions to deal with other than the one in Santa Fe — would be thrilled to pieces if they could get rid of this unruly bunch of rabble rousers and rights demanders at St. Vincent. I’m thinking they would just rather test the strength of the union, and push it to the wall; play a game of chicken on the yellow line, and see who swerves first.

Reminder: Demonstration. 6:30 p.m. Rose Garden. (You really don’t need a flashlight, trust me.) And remember,Christus doesn’t want you to show up. So stay home. Just stay home.

& Wondering if somebody in that crowd next Friday will have a sign saying something along the lines of “Christus Won’t Bust Us,” I’m outta here.

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Event update (9 p.m. 6/20):

Tuesday, June 21: Union scheduled to give 10-day notice to management, warning of potential strike to begin at 6 a.m. Friday, July 1.

Wednesday, June 22: Series of meeting with hospital employees scheduled at Center for Progress & Justice, 1, 5 and 8 p.m. to discuss current situation and inform members of rights/responsibilities/plans in event of strike.

Thursday, June 23: Teleconference scheduled between union and management with federal mediator, in a final attempt to agree on an extension of the contract to allow more time for bargaining.

Friday, June 24 — Community march, vigil and rally. Meet at Rose Garden (Cordova at Galisteo), 6:30 p.m.; march to hospital for vigil and rally at 7:30 pm.

Tuesday, June 28: Final scheduled negotiating session. Employee voting on whether to call a strike.

Friday, July 1: If strike is authorized, walkout to begin.

The union is passing around a petition listing their major grievances and providing space for signatures of anyone who supports their members. I can’t find it posted on line, but  you can probably get a copy by calling 505-986-1240. Deadline for signatures to be returned: June 23.
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