Hospital asks judge to stop employees from nixing overtime

Women & Infants Hospital in Providence. (photo: Care New England)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Women and Infants Hospital asked a federal judge Monday to prevent employees from refusing to work extra shifts after the union that represents 1,700 of them issued a notice of their intent to strike by turning down voluntary overtime.

Patrick Quinn, executive vice president of SEIU 1199, told Chief Judge William E. Smith that the notice was the cumulative effect of nearly a year of negative interactions with the hospital.

“It’s become abundantly clear to me they don’t want to work anything out,” Quinn said.

Joseph Roda, the hospital’s associate vice president for human resources, acknowledged that the relationship between the hospital and the union is poor.
“Quinn has told me many times he’s opposed to what we’re doing, it’s going to be war,” Roda told the judge.

The hospital announced in February its plans to lay off 41 employees, prompting the union to file a lawsuit for what it says is a violation of the hospital’s contract with the union members. Meanwhile, Quinn issued the notice of the union’s intent to strike March 5.

The hospital filed an emergency motion March 10 for an injunction against the notice, saying employees’ refusal to work extra shifts would cause “irreparable harm” to the hospital and its patients.

Between 8 and 10 percent of the hospital’s non-peak and non-holiday shifts each month are filled by employees working voluntary overtime, said Angelleen Peters-Lewis, chief nurse and senior vice president for patient care.

“This action is just for us to ensure we have the resources we need to continue to provide exceptional patient care,” Peters-Lewis said.

But the necessary overtime is exactly why the hospital’s recent decision to lay off its employees is inappropriate, Quinn said outside the courtroom.

Peters-Lewis said the hospital has since reduced the number of layoffs to 17 union employees and has made a “concerted effort” to ensure none of the staff being laid off is a nurse. She said the layoffs would go into effect on or about the 30th of this month.

Judge Smith took the motion under advisement, saying he would have a decision by the end of the week.

An arbitration hearing for the layoffs is scheduled for April 2.

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