Hospital groups urge NLRB to keep rules against organizing contract workers

Two leading hospital groups have asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to keep a rule in place that excludes jointly employed workers from bargaining unless both of their employers consent to doing so.

Such workers include traveling nurses, who regularly fill in at hospitals during vacations and, somewhat ironically, work stoppages. They may work on the hospital premises, but they are usually employed by an outside company. But contracted employees also provide non-clinical services, such as food preparation or custodial work. If they could more easily unionize, it would likely make it more expensive for hospitals to hire them.

Demand for traveling nurses recently hit a 20-year high due to rising hospital admissions since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Some studies have suggested that the judicious use of traveling nurses in their current incarnation is actually less expensive than hiring full-time employees.

In protest to potential changes to the rule, the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the Federation of American Hospital Systems (FAH) filed an amicus brief that says the new rule could force hospitals to bargain with these groups of employees even though the organizations may not have any actual control over the contingent workers' terms and conditions of employment. "These non-cohesive units would make bargaining exponentially more difficult and thus increase the risk of potentially disruptive labor disputes," it said.

If the NLRB disregards the concerns of the AHA and FAH, and allows contracted employees to organize without joint consent, the two hospital lobbying groups could wind up taking the NLRB to federal court.

A similar issue is already being litigated in the federal courts. The AHA objects to a rule allowing the NLRB to organize hospital employees in "piecemeal fashion"--outside of the proscribed jobs that can be subject to labor organization under what it claims are the current NLRB rules, according to AHA News Now. Oral arguments in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals in District of Columbia have yet to be scheduled.

To learn more:
- read the amicus brief (.pdf)
- check out the AHA News Now article