Health Care

Truman Medical Center techs look to unionize, allege intimidation from management

Emiliegh Myers said that when she was hired as a patient care tech in the emergency room at Truman Medical Center-Lakewood, her boss was friendly and solicitous of her opinions.

But since she started expressing interest in a budding effort to unionize the techs at Truman, that same manager no longer speaks to her.

“I feel it’s intimidating,” Myers said. “It’s just not right that I have a director who will go around and talk to everyone else in the department and leave me out of it.”

Union officials say it’s part of a broader pattern of behavior as management tries to quash efforts to organize the hospital’s techs and lab workers.

About 75 workers and their supporters rallied outside Truman’s main campus on Hospital Hill near downtown Tuesday.

“Workers have been called in for one-on-one conversations with managers where they’ve been accused of harassing their co-workers, and there have been department-wide anti-union ‘mandatory’ meetings,” said Claire Cook-Callen, a spokeswoman for SEIU Healthcare Missouri labor union. “This is ultimately creating a hostile work environment where workers feel they’re being intimidated for organizing.”

The union already represents techs and lab workers at Research Medical Center and Menorah Medical Center, as well as about 350 other Truman employees.

Union reps say efforts to prevent organizing are particularly disappointing, given that Truman receives about $36 million in subsidies from Kansas City and Jackson County. The hospital gets that support in exchange for an agreement to treat all county residents, regardless of their ability to pay.

In a prepared statement, Truman officials said the workers are trying to pressure them into voluntarily recognizing the union. But the officials believe it should be put to a vote of all affected employees rather than “be simply agreed to based on the demands of a vocal group.”

The statement said Truman is not “anti-union,” but “pro-employee” and “works hard to have good relationships with all of its employees, union and non-union alike.”

“Despite the union’s charges to the contrary, TMC has not held mandatory meetings on this issue for those employees that the union is targeting,” the statement said. “If an employee believes that he or she is being harassed by a co-worker for any reason, we encourage that employee to come forward so that TMC can investigate the matter, regardless of the issue or reason underlying the dispute.

“TMC’s policy is to treat all employees equally, regardless of their stance on any union issue, and we encourage anyone who believes this has not occurred to contact Human Resources so that the matter can be investigated.”

The unionization effort at Truman is still in its early stages, with employees circulating petitions and certification cards. If at least 30% of workers sign on, they can submit a petition to the National Labor Relations Board for an election to certify the union, which is decided by a majority of votes cast.

Union officials say the workers want to organize to address issues like pay, workplace safety and staffing.

Myers, who lives in Oak Grove, said she and her husband and two kids moved from southwest Missouri when she took the job, and her wages haven’t kept up with the higher cost of living in the Kansas City area.

She said she makes about $15 an hour and has been working as much overtime as she can. She also sells her blood plasma about twice a week to help make ends meet.

She said that even though the NLRB protects workers from being retaliated against for unionizing, some of her colleagues are still being chilled by fear and misinformation.

“We would like the fair process,” Myers said, “of being able to sit down with employees and explain what unions are.”

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Kansas City Star health reporter Andy Marso was part of a Pulitzer Prize-finalist team at The Star and previously won state and regional awards at the Topeka Capital-Journal and Kansas Health Institute News Service. He has written two books, including one about his near-fatal bout with meningitis.