A federal judge will allow a labor union representing patient care technicians at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago to continue its legal action to force Rush to the bargaining table, even as the hospital’s appeal of the unionization action itself remains pending before a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.
On Oct. 19, U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Kendall denied Rush’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Local 743 International Brotherhood of Teamsters in its dispute with the hospital over whether wages, hours and other employment conditions for Rush’s patient care technicians (PCTs) should be decided in arbitration under a longstanding collective bargaining agreement between the hospital and its other unionized workers.
The decision doesn’t grant the union the compulsory arbitration it seeks, but does reject the hospital’s contention the arbitration should be forestalled until the D.C. court of appeals rules on the hospital’s appeal of a National Labor Relations Board order requiring the hospital to negotiate with the union.
The dispute stems from a vote taken in August 2014 by workers at the hospital to unionize more than 230 PCTs working at Rush through Teamsters Local 743. According to releases from Local 743, the union now represents a total of more than 800 workers at Rush University Medical Center.
However, following the vote, Rush challenged the vote, saying the election was “improper.” The NLRB, which had certified the election, responded in February 2015 by ordering Rush “to bargain on request with the union.”
Rush appealed that decision to the D.C. federal courts, and the case is still pending.
However, in the meantime, in March 2015, the Teamsters sued in federal court, demanding Rush be compelled to submit to arbitration to resolve disagreements between the union and the hospital over the PCTs wages and other concerns. The union said such a demand is appropriate under longstanding agreements Rush and its predecessor Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital have held since 1967 with unions representing a host of other workers at the hospital.
In response, Rush argued Kendall should dismiss the union’s lawsuit while its appeal of the NLRB ruling and order continues in D.C., saying until that matter is resolved the Chicago federal court lacks jurisdiction on the question. They also argued, while the appeal of the NLRB decision remains pending, the PCTs are not covered under the 1967 agreement.
Kendall, however, said Rush was mistaken on both premises.
She said, on one hand, Rush’s argument regarding jurisdiction is flawed, as it “fatally mischaracterizes the nature” of the union’s lawsuit.
“The Union is not seeking to compel enforcement of the (NLRB’s) order,” Kendall wrote. “Instead it is seeking to compel compliance with an arbitration provision in the parties’ underlying agreement, a dispute over which this Court is authorized to preside.”
On the other hand, Kendall conceded the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the NLRB’s certification of the PCT unionization vote “highlights the difficult position that the PCTs are currently in,” noting “the PCTS are stuck in purgatory.”
But she said those difficulties are not enough to short-circuit the union’s litigation over arbitration, noting only further proceedings would show whether Rush or the union are incorrectly interpreting the 1967 agreement when attempting to determine whether it should be applied to the PCTs.
“Maybe the parties have routinely applied the arbitration or other terms of the agreement to new job classifications that sit in the same limbo where the PCTs now reside; maybe not,” Kendall wrote. “Suffice to say that at this early stage, the Union has strung together sufficient facts to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted.”
Rush University Medical Center is represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Vedder Price P.C.
Teamsters Local 743 is represented by Asher, Gittler, Greenfield, Cohen & D’Alba, of Chicago.
The federal case is No.1:15-cv-02457 Local 743 International Brotherhood of Teamsters vs Rush University Medical Center.