Oakland commissioners urge Beaumont to cease 'anti-union' activities

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
Southfield-based Beaumont Health denies claims that it harassed its nurses at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak who were advocating for the formation of a labor union.

The Oakland County Board of Commissioners Thursday threw its support behind nurses who say they were harassed after campaigning to form a union at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

The commissioners 13-8 passed a bipartisan resolution urging the hospital to "cease and desist its anti-union activities and demonstrate neutrality in the nurses' organizing drive.

"In the spirit of American democracy, both (Michigan Nurses Association) and Beaumont should respect the right of registered nurses to make a decision regarding unionization in an atmosphere free of intimidation," the resolution says.

It urged that meetings addressing the topic happen on a voluntary basis and outside work hours, whether held by the Southfield-based nonprofit health system or the Michigan Nurses Association

The declaration comes after the Michigan Nurses Association filed an unfair practice charge against the hospital's management last week. The complaint alleges the hospital threatened employees involved in the union drive, and that it changed job duties of a union supporter to isolate her from other nurses. The hospital denies the claims and says it complies with federal law.

"We are disappointed that they passed" the resolution, said Susan Grant, executive vice president and chief nursing officer for Beaumont Health. "The Oakland County Board of Commissioners has no purview on this. This is a federally guided and monitored process."

The hospital does offer educational sessions with labor law experts to its nurses on their rights to unionize or not based on the National Labor Relations Board's own booklets after some nurses requested information on the matter, Grant said. Such sessions are voluntary and do occur during work hours, but there are structures in place to ensure patients remain covered, Grant said.

"We are operating on the guidelines and abide by them," she said. "We are not going to change what we are doing. Our nurses want the information, and we are going to provide that information within the law."

Beaumont nurses supporting the union have called the meetings "union-busting" measures that spread misinformation and do keep workers from patients. The union says for the sessions, Beaumont hired consulting firms, including Kulture Consulting LLC and Reliant Labor Consultants, that state on their websites that unions "can devastate a Company" and offer services that include "fighting a union."

Beaumont declined to provide the names of its consultants, saying it does not release the names of businesses with which it works.

A group of nurses testified before the commission last month to share their concerns about Beaumont's alleged actions.

"I think it's imperative," said the commission's chairman, David Woodward, D-Royal Oak, who cosponsored the resolution, "that our public leaders send a message to all leaders and stand up to support workers that are campaigning for their right to form a union to gather support without interference from an employer."

Another charge was filed June 14 against the Michigan Nurses Association, alleging the union attempted to coerce Beaumont employees, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The complaint, however, was withdrawn Thursday.

In April, more than 100 nurses committed to efforts to organize a union drive at the Beaumont hospital. A Facebook group for the cause has more than 1,900 participants. There are approximately 3,200 nurses who work at the hospital.

"I’m so glad this motion passed," said Philomena Kerobo, a nurse in the family birth center who says she was "interrogated, harassed and intimidated" by her superiors for passing out pro-union fliers and pins. "The motion is to allow Beaumont to give us our freedom, my freedom to educate my co-workers."