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NLRB says HCA Healthcare ‘unilaterally implemented’ pandemic pay program without union’s input

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The National Labor Relations Board on Thursday ruled that three southern California hospitals operated by HCA Healthcare Inc. improperly implemented pandemic pay programs in 2020 by not first reaching out to unions representing workers at those sites. 

NLRB ordered the hospitals — Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center, West Hills Hospital and Medical Center, and Riverside Community Hospital — to rescind pandemic pay programs put in place in March 2020 that weren’t first cleared by Service Employees International Union Local 121 RN, which represents nurses at the hospitals. 

The NLRB separately said Los Robles violated federal law by canceling the pandemic pay program in June 2020 for professional unit workers, which includes clinical lab scientists; physical, occupational and speech therapists; pharmacists, dieticians and social workers, without collaborating with the union. 

A spokesperson for HCA Healthcare told HR Dive the system disagrees with the NLRB’s decision and is evaluating its legal options. 

“At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we moved quickly to have the supplies and protocols in place to protect the physical and financial security of our colleagues and their families. This included securing and monitoring sufficient supplies of protective gear, and introducing a pandemic pay program that continued paying colleagues 70% of their salary — even when there was no work for them due to government mandates that halted many elective procedures,” spokesperson Carmella Gutierrez said via email. 

“At a time when other health systems were laying off employees, we did not,” Gutierrez continued in her mail. “In 2020, our pandemic pay program helped more than 127,000 HCA Healthcare colleagues support themselves and their families,” the spokesperson said. 

Unfair labor charges filed with the NLRB have been on the rise in recent years. In the first six months of fiscal year 2023, which ended March 31, unfair labor charges were up 16% to 9,292 charges from the previous period last year, the agency said. Union representation petitions for the same period climbed up 2%, from 1,174 to 1,200. 

In FY 2022, the NLRB had a record increase in cases, with unfair labor charges and union representation petitions spiking 23%, from 16,720 to 20,498, marking the biggest single-year increase in 46 years and the greatest percentage increase in 63 years, NLRB said. And the agency said FY 2023 is on pace to record the second-largest increase in filings since FY 1959.

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