I’m writing today in response not only to a recent article published on December 10, 2019, by Sauk Valley Media, but also to other misinformation recently released on social media, other news outlets, and in baseless AFSCME labor complaints and visits to the Sterling City Council meetings.
The goal of CGH Medical Center is to continue to provide exceptional, high-quality patient care, focused on technical excellence, integrity, and respect, and this is something we take very seriously. Our ability to show care, concern, compassion, and kindness towards our patients and each other is what makes us who we are.
It is no hidden fact that the healthcare system overall is troubled by the most expensive costs in the world, as millions of citizens suffer from medical debt or no insurance. In the midst of these issues, some healthcare employees across the US are fighting to unionize as a way to take on the for-profit healthcare system that they see as failing to help patients. Now, CGH Medical Center - a non-for-profit, city-owned hospital in Sterling - is facing unionization attempts by its employees, too.
We realize that employees may unionize for a number of different reasons. This may include wages, benefits, employee discipline rights and improved patient care. At CGH, our first priority is providing our patients with the best possible care. We strive to provide our employees with fair treatment, competitive salaries, and comprehensive benefits. Below are a few things currently in place that make me ask why a union is necessary at CGH:
- Best patient care means having the necessary people, up-to-date equipment, and other resources to make that happen. Attracting and retaining the best people requires us to be competitive with pay and benefits. It means adequate staffing to ensure the care is appropriate and we are not burning out our caregivers. Our nurse staffing ratios are the best in the region, and the ratios are established by a CGH committee, comprised 50% of front-line nurses. Other departments are staffed above the 95th percentile across the organization. A statement that our nurse-patient staffing ratios are poor is just plain wrong! Our margins each year are put back into the organization to make sure we have up-to-date diagnostic equipment and facilities and the ability to grow our services we are able to offer.
- We are committed to treating our employees fairly. Our Progressive Discipline Policy gives every employee a right to appeal a disciplinary action. This includes appeals to their manager, their Vice President, the CEO (me), and ultimately the CGH Board of Directors. This ensures our employees are treated fairly and objectively, and if they feel that is not happening, they have options. Ask those that claim retaliation from CGH for union activity if they appealed their discipline. If not, why not?
- We are committed to providing a competitive, market-driven pay to all our employees, including our managers, and vice presidents (whose pay is market-driven). CGH regularly performs a market analysis for our area and makes pay adjustments to make sure we are compensating our employees fairly and competitively. Further, when the market indicates pay should be decreased, we have never decreased employee pay for that reason.
- CGH employee benefits also remain very competitive and, although healthcare costs have risen and benefits have expanded in recent years, our employee health insurance premiums have not increased in five years. Retirement options are also generous with the IMRF pension or our “401K-like” retirement plan option with generous employer matches. Dental and prescription drug benefits are also quite substantial. Our paid time off starts with 21 (8 hr) days the first year and builds from that point forward.
Although there are many questions on the future of union organization at CGH, here are some facts that are known right now to the best of my ability:
Beginning Friday, June 7, 2019, CGH employees began reporting that union representatives from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 were visiting their homes asking for support to form a union at CGH Medical Center. CGH had no knowledge of this prior to the visits starting.
A formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request came to CGH in January 2019 by an individual with a Gmail address asking for all CGH employee names, addresses and phone numbers. This individual was with AFSCME, but CGH did not know this at the time. As a city-owned hospital, by law, the hospital complied, and employee names were provided. However, CGH did not share individual addresses or phone numbers as this would be a violation of our employees’ privacy. AFSCME obtained home addresses, cell phone numbers and other personal information on their own.
During the AFSCME unannounced home visits, many employees reported that they were told to “just sign as proof the union had visited,” or that “all your co-workers have signed,” or “sign this card to get more information,” or “if you’re interested in learning more about the union,” or “even if you don’t agree with unionization, sign this card to support your co-workers.” However, unbeknownst to the employees, the card given to them at the time was a “yes” vote for unionization, not merely proof that they had visited. Due to the way the law is structured for governmental union organizing, the one-time “yes” vote is all that is needed when filing.
Following the unannounced home visits, AFSCME representatives and union organizers began to promote their cause around the CGH hospital and Main Clinic campus. These organizers have a legal right to be on the sidewalks, but began to cross the line when they engaged patients and CGH visitors. They also began going door-to-door claiming that CGH was misspending City of Sterling tax dollars. Again, this was another AFSCME misrepresentation as CGH, although owned by the city, receives NO taxes or funding from the City of Sterling or its residents, and has not received any taxes or funding from the City of Sterling since 1980. CGH does not have any control over how City of Sterling funds are spent. The City of Sterling’s only obligation to CGH is to appoint Board members.
In July, more false actions were reported as AFSCME took credit for the wage increases received by CGH employees. Wage increases at CGH were budgeted in January of 2019, and the range moves that were made in the nursing staff wages were communicated to employees in April, well before AFSCME was onsite. Regardless of this, AFSCME would have NO say in employee wages until after the formation of a union and ratification of a contract with CGH, and AFSCME should not have been taking credit for this as a “win.”
During this time, there was also much discussion about the “profits” of CGH. It is important to note that we are a non-profit, city-owned hospital. We don’t have shareholders and our primary mission is to serve our patients. CGH has been blessed to be able to maintain a viable operation at a time when many rural hospitals are closing their doors. Our revenues and operating expenses, which are published in our Annual Report each fall, are market-controlled, and we have strong fiscal policies that guide our decision making. We have a strong sense of mission. We turn no one away and give a lot of our care away for free. Any “profit” each year is used for bringing in new services to benefit the community, building repairs and upgrades, new equipment and technology, and generally making sure we are staying up-to-date so that our patients continually receive the best care possible. Other “profit” goes back to the employees in the form of wages, wage increases (such as cost of living adjustments) and quality share bonuses, retirement match rates, IMRF pensions and additional dental, prescription drug and medical benefits. As stated earlier, health insurance premiums for CGH employees have not increased in five years.
Throughout the last six months, CGH Medical Center has kept its promise to remain neutral. Management has not interfered with the discussion of the union, has not resorted to misinformation, has not used scare tactics to stop staff from forming a union, and has not taken actions against any staff member who discusses the union on their breaks. Our culture respects our people – including trusting them to make up their own minds about something this important.
In addition, CGH has complied with the constant, frivolous and numerous FOIA requests made on behalf of AFSCME, while remaining committed to protecting the personal privacy of our employees as much as possible. Contrary to what was reported, CGH has not hired any public relations or consulting firms to “fight” or “stop” the union organization process. However, it was necessary for us to engage our current employment and labor relations attorney to dispute the unfounded complaints that AFSCME continues to file (and then drop) against the hospital with the Illinois Labor Relations Board (ILRB). It should be noted that the union has a highly paid attorney (paid by the employees’ union dues) to bombard employers and file baseless labor disputes in an attempt to wear them down into submission.
While we remain neutral, we do have an opinion about what a union could mean for CGH employees. We are dedicated to continuing an open relationship with all of our staff and we believe that unionization could hinder or destroy that close relationship and potentially, this may undermine the quality of our patient care.
As of December 2019, there is no union in place at CGH. CGH management has been informed that a “majority interest petition” has been filed with the State of Illinois by AFSCME to bring their union to CGH. A majority interest petition is a form filed by a union seeking certification as the exclusive bargaining representative for a unit of employees, not through an election but through the Board’s card check procedures. At this point, CGH is waiting to hear from the Illinois Labor Relations Board (ILRB). Regarding the next steps, CGH has been told the following:
- CGH will provide the ILRB a list of all employees and a sample of their signatures.
- CGH may challenge whether or not the bargaining unit sought is appropriate (for example, professional and non-professional).
- CGH may challenge whether or not the signatures were collected freely and if they are valid.
- The ILRB will then determine if a majority of employees support the union, schedule a formal hearing or hold a secret ballot election.
- If AFSCME is certified (a process that could take a few months), the contract negotiation process would begin. The negotiation process could take an additional two to three years. Data has shown that within two years, more than one-third of new unions still had no contract, and by three years, that portion was still around 30%.
- It is important to note that, if unionized, CGH is not required to bargain over matters of managerial policy and decisions which include functions of the employer, standards of services, its overall budget, or the organizational structure and selection of new employees.
The last six months at CGH have been interesting, to say the least! The organizing efforts began in June with individuals on the AFSCME payroll from outside the area from places such as Rockford and as far away as Ohio and California. The loudest voices and biggest proponents of unionizing come from those who are not even CGH employees! While CGH gets cast in the light of being the “big bad employer”, we are facing a union with 1.4 million members, a well-honed, professional playbook for how to organize, and an organization hungry for dues money (the majority of which will leave our community). We hear how we are the “intimidators” or the “bullies”, but the reverse seems to be true. Our interests are pure and honest and focused on the best for our patients and our employees.
As CGH has stated to all employees from the very beginning, the decision of whether or not to join the union is up to each individual employee. Only they can determine if unionization makes good sense for them and their family. Unfortunately, this process has been quite divisive, and we need some healing to take place, regardless of the outcome. My hope is that as employees, we have the capacity to listen to each other, perhaps disagree, but still care about one another, still respect each other, and remain focused on our patients first.
If you feel you have been unduly harassed or have been/are being pressured by any representative of AFSCME, union organizer, or a coworker, please contact the Illinois Department of Labor at (217) 785-3155 and file a formal complaint. In addition, contrary to what some employees have been told by AFSCME representatives, it is not too late to change your mind if you already signed a card. To revoke your card and signature:
- Send a letter via certified mail so you have proof of delivery revoking your signature.
- It is also a good idea to send a copy of the letter to HR for your file.
- For a sample letter, follow this link and fill in the correct information.
- The address and contact to send it to are as follows: David Delrose, Secretary AFSCME Council 31 205 N. Michigan Ave Suite 2100, Chicago, IL 60601
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me or the CGH Human Resources Department at (815) 625-0400 ext. 5797. As I’ve stated repeatedly through this process, caring for our patients and community is our top priority now and always, regardless of the final outcome of union organization at CGH.
Dr. Paul Steinke
CGH President & CEO