Governor should not intervene without compelling proof of harm to public

MIDLAND — The state of Michigan should not intervene in the labor dispute involving nurses at Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey "unless a compelling case has been made that citizens are being harmed," according to comments filed by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy with Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s Blue-Ribbon Panel convened to consider the state’s options in the matter. In response to a call for public input, the Midland-based research institute cautioned state officials against taking sides on any issues involved in the dispute, including whether the hospital workplace will be a closed union shop.

According to Mackinac Center Labor Research Associate Paul Kersey, the state should certainly continue to monitor developments at the hospital to protect the health, safety and welfare of citizens. "But the state’s options are very limited because federal law controls labor relations at private hospitals," Kersey said. "Certainly the state has an interest in protecting public health, but there’s little the state can do directly, and unless there’s a significant and imminent threat to the health of people in the region, the state should allow the federal agencies and the parties to work this out," Kersey said.

The Mackinac Center’s filing, located at www.mackinac.org/5581, states that:

"The NLRB has investigated numerous allegations of unfair labor practices related to this strike, but has yet to find that any have occurred. While it may be frustrating to see the parties fail to reach an agreement, there is little reason to believe that either side is acting in bad faith. The rights of all parties under federal law should at all times be respected. These include, but are not limited to: the right of the union to call a strike; the right of nurses to honor the strike or continue working as they see fit; and the right of the hospital to continue operations in the midst of a strike."

"On the issue of a ‘union shop,’ which has been identified as a major sticking point in the negotiations, the state should also be mindful of the fact that a petition has been circulated among Northern Michigan Hospital nurses, calling for the removal of the Teamsters. Sufficient signatures have been collected to hold an election at which the Teamsters may be decertified as the nurses’ collective bargaining representative. It would be particularly distressing to both workers and employers if the state were to pressure the hospital into accepting a union shop arrangement, under which nurses who oppose the union would be forced to financially support the Teamsters in the months leading to a decertification vote. This is properly a matter for the nurses to resolve among themselves and the state should remain neutral on this issue as well. By the same token, the state should avoid pressuring the union into making concessions on wages or management rights. To do so would undercut the union’s ability to protect the interests of nurses."

"Given the limited legal role that the state has in labor relations at Northern Michigan Hospital, the state should intervene only after a compelling case has been made that citizens are being harmed, and should exercise patience and caution in any event."

The nurses’ strike began in November of 2002, with roughly half of approximately 500 nurses at Northern Michigan hospital walking out and the other half continuing to work. The panel held public hearings earlier this month.

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