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Union organizing for Web Edition

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- United Hospital Center administration and the United Mine Workers of America confirmed Friday that the union is attempting to organize hospital workers.

Rich Eddy, president of UMWA Local 31, said Friday the union was contacted seven to eight months ago by employees who are interested in organizing.

"Interest has grown since the issue was brought up," Eddy said. "Some of the issues they're concerned about are having a voice in the workplace and negotiating for wages and benefits. We welcome them with open arms."

Eddy said the union hopes to obtain enough signatures to petition the National Labor Relations Board for organization as early as next week, though he added he could not give a definite timetable.

UHC President Bruce Carter said Friday he will respect whatever decision employees make, although he believes organizing would be "a waste of their time and money."

"UHC has competitive wages compared to other hospitals for the same jobs, and a good benefits package," Carter said. "Over 10 years, we've done nothing but steadily add employees because we've been successful. Success is where security comes from, not unions."

Eddy said the UMWA is unhappy with a letter sent by Carter to employees, in which Carter urged them not to sign union cards. A UHC employee provided the Exponent and Telegram with a copy of the letter Friday.

Eddy cited statements in the letter that read as follows: In the second paragraph; "You may be asked by union organizers to sign a union card. This card is a very significant legal document which will give away many of your rights to the UMWA." In the third paragraph; "Do you know, for example, that by signing a union card you may be subjecting yourself to follow the United Mine Workers of America Union Constitution and by-laws?"

Eddy said signing a union card does not obligate an employee to the union or automatically make one a member.

"The cards do nothing other than to show us they're interested," he said. "They're kept completely confidential. By law, we have to show the National Labor Relations Board we have the signatures of 30 percent of the employees before we can petition to organize."

Eddy added that letters like the one written by Carter are not unusual.

"Anytime we have an organization drive, employers put out letters like this," he said.

Carter said Friday he simply wants hospital employees to make an informed decision.

"It's an important decision that shouldn't be made lightly by people," Carter said. "It's like hiring a consultant. It has benefits and costs."

Concerning the implications of signing a union card, Carter said: "In some cases, it can cause the NLRB to do certain things." However, he declined to elaborate, saying "I'm not a labor attorney."

Carter also disputed a statement made to an area television station that hospital administrators were using "scare tactics" to discourage employees from signing the cards.

"That is a defamatory accusation," he said. "This hospital will not tolerate intimidation of employees. I challenge anyone who says something like that to be specific."

Thus far, UHC employees contacted by the Exponent and Telegram about the organization issue have declined to speak publicly.

Staff writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442 or by e-mail at sgainer@exponent-telegram.com.

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