Federal labor board officials have found evidence that Johns Hopkins Hospital officials tried to deter nurses from forming a union.
The National Labor Relations Board said it will issue a formal complaint against the hospital if officials don’t agree to settle the complaint.
National Nurses United filed the labor complaint in June accusing the hospital of using several tactics to prevent organizing that included barring nurses from coming to work on their days off to talk to colleagues on their breaks about the unionization effort. It also prohibited nurses from talking about union issues at work, but not other nonwork issues.
Both of these restrictions violated federal law, the labor board found.
“We hope that with this decision that the hospital will honor our federally protected right to try and organize,” said Derek Jannarone, a nurse in the transplant unit.
A Johns Hopkins spokesman said in a statement that the hospital disagreed with the decision by the federal labor board.
"We deeply respect our nurses, their contributions to our organization, and all of their rights as employees, including their right to support or oppose a union,” spokesman Kenneth Willis said. “We believe the union’s charges lack merit, and we respectfully disagree with the National Labor Relations Board Regional Office’s preliminary decision to move this matter to the next step in the process.”
Other allegations against the hospital made by the union remain under investigation, the union said. The nurses also complained that the hospital hired anti-union lawyers to spread a message against unionizing.
Nurses began organizing earlier this year because they said they were overworked and underpaid. They argue that high turnover and a shortage of nurses are putting patients at risk.
Willis called nurses a “critical” part of providing care to patients.
“We are committed to maintaining our longstanding culture of collaboration and open communication with them and with all of our employees in order to provide the highest quality of care, and we stand by our workplace practices,” he said.
The money Johns Hopkins is spending on anti-union efforts could be used to improve conditions for nurses, Jannarone said.
National Nurses United is the largest nurses’ union and professional association in the United States, representing 150,000 registered nurses. There are about 3,000 nurses at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Workers may file charges against employers with the NLRB if they believe their federal rights to organize as a union and engage in collective bargaining are violated. The board investigates charges and encourages parties to settle, but can also intercede to hold elections and appeal to the federal courts to force companies to comply with labor law.
The nurses' push to organize is unusual in Maryland. Few nurses in the state are represented by a union.
Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Meehan contributed to this article.