By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
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IN ITS PROMOTIONAL materials, the Missouri-based consulting firm, Management Science Associates, Inc. (MSA), boasts that it's "the nation's recognized leader in assisting hospitals to counter union organizing efforts." In January, Fairview Health Systems joined MSA's 1,000-plus clients after it bought the former University Hospital and Clinic, and with it, a unionized work force. Fairview had refused to recognize the hospital's existing unions, but the workers had simply regrouped. Now, with a new union vote less than a month away, Fairview is relying on MSA to step up its anti-union campaign.
The hospital's work with MSA is described by Fairview spokesperson Jean Tracy as an effort to "train managers on employee-relations issues in the private sector," not an attempt to break the union. "We have a long track-record with good relationships with unions at Fairview," Tracy asserts. "The opinion that MSA is a union-busting organization is just that--an opinion." MSA didn't return calls, and Fairview management is tight-lipped about the effort, but judging by training materials used by MSA in the past the consultants seem dedicated to one thing: eradicating organized labor in hospitals. MSA coaches management to listen to employees' concerns, but the end result seems geared toward weeding out potential union sympathizers, rather than improving working conditions.
MSA collects data on hundreds of thousands of hospital employees nationwide with its "Employee Opinion and Work Orientation Survey," and uses the data to compile a "Union Vulnerability Index" for various types of hospital workers. "Top management is able to compare the results of their hospital's survey to the current MSA union vulnerability index" to assess the chances workers will unionize. Once management has determined its "vulnerability," MSA trains hospitals' middle managers to counter organizing tactics like the union's proclivity to "use emotional words such as 'justice,' 'dignity,' [and] 'self-respect.'"
The standard MSA anti-union drive kicks off with a group seminar in which supervisors are given the dos and don'ts of combating unions, complete with role-playing scenarios: "While waiting at the counter to make your purchase," reads one, set in the cafeteria, "you overhear three of your employees--Anita Absent, Toni Tardy and Edgar Ego--standing outside the door talking. The conversation centers around a number of complaints, several of which you have heard before. This time, however, one of the three employees makes the comment, 'What we need at ABC Medical Center, Inc. is a union to solve these problems.'" Six scenarios follow Edgar Ego and his co-conspirators all the way through a union election, with detours to discuss how to handle "Loretta Loyal," a worker who informs on their activities and "Paul Progress, Chief Executive Officer," who blames supervisors for the organizing drive.
In its 170-page "Supervisor's Manual for Improving Employee Relations and Maintaining Non-Union Status," MSA simultaneously encourages supervisors to be fair and open with employees, and issues dire warnings about the effect organized labor would have on their lives. With a union steward in the unit, reads one bulleted item, "all actions [are] subject to [the] watchful eye of [the] union."
After priming management to root out Edgar Ego, MSA continues to supervise the anti-union drive. At Fairview University, in addition to posting anti-union flyers, supervisors meet one-on-one with their employees to discourage a pro-union vote. "We are the front-line people," explains one supervisor, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The consultants hold biweekly hour-long meetings as well as one-on-one sessions with supervisors. The consultants explain "basically, how we are to communicate things," the supervisor says, "things that we should not say that might get us in trouble with the [National] Labor Relations Board, what's legal and what's not legal. We don't want to appear as though we're influencing things through intimidation."
Fairview defends its hiring of the consultants, who have charged other hospitals some $700 a day. "These are employees of Fairview," Jean Tracy asserts, "and I think that Fairview has a right to communicate with its employees." The unions, naturally, beg to differ. "There's no question about this," says Geoff Hahn, a laid-off hospital worker and president of AFSCME Local 1164, which seeks to represent technical employees and "non-professional workers" at Fairview University. "The fact is, MSA is here to break the union."