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Federal Courts Issue Conflicting Rulings Over Staffing Dispute At Menorah And Research Hospitals

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Dan Margolies
/
KCUR 89.3
National Nurse United represents about 740 registered nurses at Research Medical Center, pictured above, and about 320 registered nurses at Menorah Medical Center.

The staffing disputes at Menorah and Research are among many contentious battles between the nurses union and HCA, the health care conglomerate that owns the hospitals.

Two hospitals owned by HCA Midwest Health, one in Missouri and the other in Kansas, were sued last year by National Nurses United.

At issue was whether the hospitals’ plans to replace bargaining unit nurses with supervisory nurses were covered by arbitration provisions under the hospital's collective bargaining agreements.

In April, a federal judge in Missouri ruled that they were. And last week, a federal judge in Kansas ruled that they were not.

“It’s unusual to see such diametrically different outcomes,” said Micah Berul, a lawyer representing the union. “We obviously think one is correct and the other is not.”

Christine Hamele, a spokeswoman for HCA, said the company was pleased the Kansas decision determined that Menorah "followed processes outlined in the collective bargaining agreement."

The two hospitals involved in the dispute are Research Medical Center in Kansas City and Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park.

Both are operated by health care behemoth HCA, the largest privately owned hospital company in the United States, and both are parties to collective bargaining agreements with the union.

New agreements during COVID

In June 2020, both hospitals drew up new staffing grids. The union filed grievances in both cases, asserting the grids required supervisory nurses to perform work that, under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, should have been performed by the bargaining units of registered nurses.

Both hospitals refused to process the grievances and to arbitrate the disputes. The union then sued both hospitals to compel arbitration.

In April, U.S. District Judge Stephen Bough, who sits in Kansas City, Missouri, found that the arbitration provision of the collective bargaining agreement applied. And on Friday, Chief U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson, who sits in Kansas City, Kansas, ruled that the arbitration provision does not apply.

So now what happens?

Research has appealed Bough’s decision to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Berul said the union “is strongly considering” appealing Robinson’s decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

If the two appeals courts wind up issuing conflicting rulings, it’s possible the cases could go up to the U.S. Supreme Court. A split between circuits is one of the factors the Supreme Court considers when deciding whether to review a case.

The staffing disputes at Menorah and Research are among many contentious battles between the nurses union and HCA, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other issues revolve around workplace safety, COVID-19 protection and cuts to 401(k) plans.

The union represents about 740 registered nurses at Research and about 320 registered nurses at Menorah.

As a reporter covering breaking news and legal affairs, I want to demystify often-complex legal issues in order to expose the visible and invisible ways they affect people’s lives. I cover issues of justice and equity, and seek to ensure that significant and often under-covered developments get the attention they deserve so that KCUR listeners and readers are equipped with the knowledge they need to act as better informed citizens. Email me at dan@kcur.org.
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