KDMC claims harassing phone calls

Published 9:45 am Thursday, January 6, 2011

ASHLAND, Ky. — King’s Daughters Medical Center is suing a local union that represents more than 600 of its employees, claiming it is trying to harass the hospital’s CEO.

The complaint against Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199 was filed on Dec. 29, the day before the union voted to reject KDMC’s latest contract offer.

The complaint alleges the union violated federal statutes by causing hundreds of automated telephone calls to be made to KDMC, but the union claimed it was in full compliance with the law.

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According to the allegations, in December, “SEIU, through its agents and representatives, and acting in concert with Unknown Defendants, commenced a telephone calling campaign directed at KDMC’s hospital facilities.”

KDMC stated that hundreds of automated calls, or “robo-calls,” as the complaint stated, have been made with the purpose of harassing Fred Jackson, KDMC’s chief executive officer, as well as other employees.

Joyce Gibson, organizational representative for SEUI’s hospital division, said, “The purpose of the calls was to bring awareness to the community and let the community know that the hospital gave out, after they laid everybody off in July of 2010, turned around and gave $1.1 million in bonuses in November to executives at that hospital.”

Gibson also said, “It was to bring the community awareness of what is going on at that hospital in terms of CEO and executive pay when they’re trying to impose wage freezes on healthcare workers who work at that hospital along with eliminating their pension and impose triple healthcare costs and extreme healthcare deductibles out of pocket.”

The automated calls play a pre-recorded message designed to incite the person who answers the phone against KDMC, said the complaint. The message also encourages the listener to press a number to be transferred to Jackson’s extension.

The phone calls were received through the hospital’s main phone line and the complaint stated that KDMC’s call logs identify the calls as originating from only one phone number, a Columbus number believed to be used by SEIU.

The complaint also stated that between 10:45 a.m. on Dec. 28, through 4:46 p.m. on Dec. 29, 536 calls generated by the automated system were placed to Jackson’s extension.

The complaint also stated that these calls obstructed and unlawfully interfered with KDMC’s business operation and its ability to provide medical care and related services to its patients by tying up phone lines for all numbers and extensions within KDMC, including emergency services and other medical departments, patient rooms, security and administration.

On Dec. 30, SEIU voted to reject KDMC’s contact offer of proposed wages and healthcare and pension plans. The union’s contract had expired on Nov. 30.

“We’re in a labor dispute. We’ve been working without a contract since (Nov.) 30,” said Gibson. “And they’re now at the table trying to take from the workers who provide the care there at the hospital.”

A statement issued by KDMC on Wednesday said, “We are pleased that team members represented by the bargaining unit continue to work everyday as scheduled even though the contract expired on Nov. 30.”

The statement also said in regards to the contract negotiations, “We believe it is important to bargain in good faith at the table specific issues related to the contract. We are working with federal and state mediators and hope to have the opportunity to schedule an additional bargaining session very soon to continue to work toward an agreement.”

Gibson said that the union is outraged at the company for trying to take from the workers and called it a problem.

The union gave the hospital its 10-day notice to setup informational pickets when the contract was voted down, and say members will be in front of KDMC at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Gibson also said of the suit, “We’re prepared to defend the suit. It’s nothing new; we’ve done this before.”