(Reuters) - Community Health Systems Inc and seven of its hospitals violated employees’ rights to discuss working conditions, punished labor organizing and refused to bargain with unions, a U.S. labor agency alleged on Monday.
The National Labor Relations Board’s Office of General Counsel said it issued a consolidated complaint involving 29 charges at hospitals in California, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia owned by Tennessee-based Community, the second-largest publicly traded U.S. hospital operator.
The General Counsel, which acts like a prosecutor and brings cases to judges and the five-member NLRB, says that under federal law the company was a single employer of workers at multiple hospitals, contradicting Community’s assertion that its individual hospitals act independently.
Community spokeswoman Tomi Galin said in an emailed statement that the company disagreed with the charges and would “vigorously contest” them.
“Quality patient care will continue at each of the named hospitals and will not be impacted by this process,” Galin said.
Four of the hospitals named in the complaint were among the 38 that Community in August said it was spinning off into a separate company, Quorum Health Corp, so Community could focus on larger markets.
The complaint was not immediately available because some of the information in it must be redacted, a representative for the NLRB said. An administrative judge in Cleveland, Ohio, will begin hearing the case in December.
National Nurses United, which represents nurses at all but one of the hospitals named in Monday’s complaint, views Community as “the most lawless corporation in the hospital industry,” union spokesman Charles Idelson said Monday.
Idelson accused the company of “playing a shell game” in which it pretends its subsidiaries are independent in an attempt to mask its centralized control of policies throughout its chain of hospitals.
The charges came months after a U.S. appeals court in May ordered Community to pay the legal costs of a union that represented nurses at Fallbrook Hospital near San Diego, California. Fallbrook was also named in Monday’s complaint.
The company refused to bargain with the workers and ultimately closed the facility, which the court in upholding a decision by the NLRB called “obstinate and pugnacious.” (Additional reporting by Susan Kelly in Chicago and Robert Iafolla in Washington, D.C.)