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Hospital sues workers' union over 'robo-calls'
[January 05, 2011]

Hospital sues workers' union over 'robo-calls'

ASHLAND, Jan 05, 2011 (The Daily Independent - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- King's Daughters Medical Center has filed a federal lawsuit against the union representing hourly workers at the hospital over the union's alleged use of an automated telephone calling system to apply public pressure to KDMC during an ongoing labor dispute.

The hospital alleges in the suit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Ashland, that the "robo-call" campaign by District 1199 of the Service Employees International Union was designed to harass KDMC Chief Executive Officer Fred Jackson and other hospital employees and "to interfere with KDMC's ability to operate its medical center facilities and efficiently provide service to the patients whom KDMC serves." KDMC is seeking an injunction blocking the union from using the automated calling system, as well as unspecified monetary damages for the union allegedly violating the federal law that governs the manner in which automated dialing systems may be used.

KDMC and District 1199 have been involved in a bitter contract dispute since the previous agreement between the parties expired on Nov. 30. Last week, union members voted down a contract offer from the hospital. The union did not release vote totals, but said its members voted overwhelmingly against the proposal. District 1199 leaders had recommended that members reject the deal.

Following the vote, the union gave KDMC notice that it intended to begin informational picketing outside the medical center next week, said Joyce Gibson, administrative organizer with District 1199. Gibson also said the union was open to going back to the bargaining table, but no new talks had been scheduled.

According to Gibson, the sticking points in the negotiations have been a hospital-proposed wage freeze over three years, changes in health insurance coverage that would require workers to pay out-of-pocket deductibles of $5,000 to $10,000 and elimination of the defined benefit pension plan.

In a statement, the hospital said it believed it had offered the union a "reasonable" contract, particularly given the uncertainty of the economy and of the health care environment.

District 1199 represents approximately 600 hourly employees at KDMC, including service, maintenance, housekeeping, laundry and dietary workers.

In the lawsuit, KDMC said it believed the union's robo-call system had generated calls to "hundreds, if not thousands" of individuals in the hospital's service region. After placing a call, the system "plays a pre-recorded message designed to incite the person who answers the telephone against KDMC," the suit states.

The message then encourages the person to press a number to be connected to Jackson's extension and to either speak to him or leave a message on his voice mail, the suit states.

Between 10:45 a.m. Dec. 28 and 4:46 p.m. Dec. 29, a total of 536 calls generated by the robo-call system were placed to Jackson's extension, the suit states. While the calls have been from different individuals, KDMC's call logs have identified all of them as originating from a single Columbus, Ohio-area phone number believed to be used by the SEIU, according to the suit.

The robo-calls "serve no legitimate business purpose" and are designed "solely for the purpose of harassing KDMC and its employees and disrupting KDMC's business operations and its ability to operate as a regional medical center," the suit states.

The hospital also claims the calls "have tied up multiple incoming telephone lines" at KDMC, including those that support calls to all numbers and extensions within the hospital, including emergency services and other medical departments, patient rooms, security, administration and KDMC's satellite family care centers.

KDMC also said it believed the robo-calls would continue "on a regular and frequent basis" unless the court puts a stop to them.

The lawsuit was filed on the hospital's behalf by Ashland attorney W. Mitchell Hall Jr. of the firm of VanAntwerp, Monge, Jones & Edwards.

Claims made in civil lawsuits state only one side of an issue.

KENNETH HART can be reached at or (606) 326-2654.

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