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Cottonwood employees want Teamsters Union representation

Lorna McDaniel

A petition filed by employees at Cottonwood Care Center to get representation by the Teamsters Union was accepted Thursday for a hearing by the Local Government Employee Management Board.

Eighty-five of the 115 employees are seeking representation after being denied by the Carson-Tahoe Hospital’s own employee association, according to Lou Martino, chief executive officer of the Teamsters.

“Because Nevada is a right-to- work state, basically employees have no rights,” he said. “They can be fired at will, with no just cause except for race, creed, religion, or (gender).”

He called the hearing a stalling game the hospital is playing to prevent their employees from getting representation by the Teamsters.

A hearing date hasn’t been set, but according to employee management board staff, the case probably won’t be heard until June or July.

Rosemary Hines, C-TH human relations, said the employees from Cottonwood Care Center, purchased by C-TH in 1995, were not signed under the hospital’s employee contract made in 1994.

Hines said she was unable to comment on the negotiations between the hospital and the employees.

Attorney Charles Cockerill of Carson City will represent the hospital.

The Teamsters have hired attorney Michael Langton of Reno to represent the employees of Cottonwood.

Langton said the hospital’s case against the Cottonwood employees is that a collective bargaining unit already exists between the employee group and CTH.

“It is irrelevant to the Cottonwood Care Center because the employees are not covered by the agreement,” he said. “They are diametrically opposed positions.”

Langton, who has been working with labor negotiations for 14 years, said, “Normally, employers do everything they can to prevent employees from coming into a union.”

If accepted, the Teamsters would draw up a binding labor agreement or employment contract that does away with fire-at-will, Martino said. The contract would dictate wages, benefits, medical insurance, vacations, and disciplinary actions. The Teamsters would act as the employees’ attorney.

For this service the employee pays monthly dues of two times the hourly rate of the employee. For example if the wage is $8 per hour then the dues would be $16 per month.

Ed Epperson, CTH chief operations officer, said the hospital will acknowledge the Teamsters Union “when and if they become certified and negotiate a contract at that time.

“(The employees) can join any union they want,” he said. “That’s their right.”

However, he added he would prefer that all the hospital employees be represented under one union because it is simpler.

“It is tough when there is more than one union because the employees are more divided,” he said.

The CTH employee association contract is due for renewal this summer, he said.

Cockerill will negotiate the contract on behalf of the hospital. The CTH employees association is represented by attorney Walter Tarantino, of Carson City.

To complicate employee relations, CTH is looking for a company to share in the responsibility of the center, which is in financial trouble. It has been reported that the center has posted losses of $492,685 in the last eight months.

Two companies, Premier Care Health Service and Lutheran Health Systems, have responded to the hospital’s letter of intent.

Epperson said a nursing home management company is sought to run the center because the hospital doesn’t know how to run the facility efficiently.

He said the hospital’s main business is in- and out-patient care and doesn’t have the expertise to run the long-term care facility.

“The nursing home business is a competitive business with a slim profit margin,” he said, adding that a management company would know better how to run the center.

In response to reports that the center is losing a large number of staff, Hines said, “That is only a matter of perception. There is always a high turnover in any long-term care facility, and ours is no different.”

The next hospital board meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. April 10 at CTH in the Health Education Center.