Sacred Heart workers seek union representation

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 25, 2000

A second nursing home’s workers in Austin are seeking union representation.

Friday, August 25, 2000

A second nursing home’s workers in Austin are seeking union representation.

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Sacred Heart Care Center employees have joined the ranks of St. Mark’s Lutheran Home workers, who also are seeking the protection of a union.

The Sacred Heart employees met Wednesday afternoon at the Austin Public Library.

According to Jennifer Swanson, union representative for Local 789 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, "They are concerned about changes which have been taking place at the nursing home.

"When these caregivers attempted to voice their opinions, they were ignored or, worse yet, told that management could do what they wanted, because the workers were not union."

On Wednesday, Sacred Heart Care Center’s administrator, Rebecca Halverson, was advised by letter that service and maintenance employees at the facility were engaged in organizing a union.

The group of workers includes all regular full-time and part-time nursing assistants, dietary aides, housekeeping, laundry and janitorial and other non-supervisory employees.

Kathy Caldren, Sacred Heart’s director of nursing, also was formally advised by letter.

Union organizing is a federally protected activity.

In February, Halverson notified all Sacred Heart employees by memo of Sacred Heart management’s opinion of alleged workplace


dissension: "I am not sure what’s going on here at Sacred Heart, but it seems as thought a number of people are just choosing to ignore some pretty basic expectations. For some reason, some employees apparently think that it’s OK to just do whatever they want to do and, if they don’t want to do something, they just don’t do it. I’m not sure where this attitude came from, but my tolerance for it is gone."

Halverson added that "resident care is our priority."

She also said, "This is not a democracy; there are people who are paid to supervise and have every right to do so, if done in a professional manner."

According to Swanson, "These caregivng workers were adamant in stating that the reason behind their organizing drive is their desire to maintain the high standards of quality care that they are used to giving to the residents."

"They feel that management is making it increasingly more and more difficult for them to do their job," Swanson said after Wednesday’s meeting.

Among the main issues is scheduling. The nurses told Swanson schedules are routinely changed without any notice to the workers and sometimes after they have been posted.

As far as Sacred Heart’s thoughts on unions, the employer notes in its policies: "Non-union status also allows employees to be treated as individuals. This benefits not only the employees directly, but also is reflected in the quality of care our residents and clients receive."

Coming in September, licensed practical nurses at St. Mark’s Lutheran Home will hold an election to determine whether they should have union representation.

The National Labor Relations Board authorized the secret ballot election on the St. Mark’s premises after employees successfully petitioned for the vote and after St. Mark’s management declined to recognize a "card check" authorization.

Asked for a comment, Halverson said: "This is an internal matter and it will be the employees’ decision. I don’t think more public comment is appropriate at this time."