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April 10, 2013 / Paul Levy

Is this the free part, or the fair part?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009, 4:20am

Attachment 1On January 27, 2009, the SEIU, the Area Trades Council, and Caritas Christi announced that they had signed an agreement for “free and fair” union election procedures at the hospitals in the CC system. Here’s an excerpt from the joint press release:

Caritas Christi, known for delivering world class care in community settings, has reaffirmed the system’s commitment to patients, caregivers, the community, and Catholic Social Teachings by pledging without reservation that Caritas will allow free and fair voting conditions for its employees when they are deciding whether to form unions.

One of the union leaders said, “Caritas management and workers should both be commended for choosing a more enlightened path of labor relations, one that is based on shared values and mutual respect.”

Well, now I’ve had a chance to read the actual agreement. (No, I couldn’t find it on the hospital system’s website.) Here’s an excerpt from the Standard of Conduct section, covering the period during which an election is pending:

The parties agree that the question of whether workers should be represented by the Union is one that the workers should answer for themselves. Except for the agreed-upon public announcements and language attached hereto as Attachment 1 [click on copy above to read it] to be handed out by managers on mutually agreed upon cards only when asked a question about unionization, no Employer officer, manager, supervisor, designee or agent shall make any comment, directly or indirectly, on this question.

In my view, this is a gag order, straight and simple. I am not sure if the prohibition covers only comments made in the hospitals, or if it also covers conversations that people might have outside the hospitals, in the grocery store, at the local pub, at a kids soccer game, or elsewhere. But, even if it only applies in hospital settings, it is unsettling. In their zeal to prevent any possibility of bad behavior by a supervisor, the parties have taken away the right of free speech on this topic from an important and engaged constituency in the hospitals. This does not feel like “shared values and mutual respect” to me.

In contrast, read this language and the other terms from the Code of Conduct adopted by our Board of Directors:

BIDMC has a strong commitment to its mission of community service in providing excellent clinical care, conducting medical research, and training future generations of medical professionals. As an academic medical center and prominent member of the corporate and civic communities, BIDMC is committed to an environment of respectful and open discourse and debate among its management, employees and physicians. It is of the utmost concern to the Board of Directors that this fair and unhindered exchange of points of view is maintained and supported during all times, incl

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