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Labor pains resume at Martha and Mary

"POULSBO - Martha and Mary Lutheran Services just can't seem to get rid of its labor pains. On the birthing table for nearly one year now, negotiations between the center's administration and the United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 381 are once again taking a turn for the worse. Thursday, Local 381 filed formal charges with the National Labor Relations against Martha and Mary, alleging unfair labor practices, interference and refusal to bargain. The charges are so vague that we don't even know what the union is claiming, explained Bob Braun, who handles labor negotiations for Martha and Mary. The charges mark the second round filed with the board since November 1999. Those allegations, which stemmed from union elections for non-licensed employees, resulted in a second election in January and some 250 workers joining UFCW Local 381. Licensed and practical nurses at Martha and Mary also opted into the union last month after the administration there recognized the unit without the election process - something which Braun said he felt represented the center's commitment to its workers. Most recent charges involve union concerns that employees who still work at the site and were previously on the center's roster as eligible voters had been removed from the list. Many of the workers voted in the last two union elections at the site. Either the administration knowingly and unlawfully changed the duties of these people and removed them from the protections of law or they knowingly and unlawfully placed people in the unit who were ineligible in an attempt to sway the election, claimed union representative Paul Festag, adding that the administration compiled two lists for the federal elections. Braun, however, took a different position on the issue and said that the process of filing charges to attain a decision from the labor relations board was standard fare. Whether or not the employees are to be included and excluded is up to the labor relations board to resolve, not Mr. Festag, Braun explained, noting allegations that the administration had not provided such lists to the union were absolutely not true. Braun said Martha and Mary even went so far as to write a special computer program for the list process. We're going above and beyond what the law requires, he added. This employer has tried very hard to be forthright. In addition to charges filed, Festag said the union was investigating reports of a hostile work environment, neglect in safety areas, off-the-clock work and sexual harassment. Although we have seen some investigation take place, in many cases complainants have not been interviewed, he explained. A series of complaints about one supervisor have been issued to the administration over a period of three months with no results pro or con. Festag claimed that while the administration was simply working to ensure that no one was unjustly accused, there are still inherent problems with the process. People can always be unsatisfied with a response but every incident that has been brought forward by an employee or Mr. Festag has been investigated immediately, Braun countered, noting that the center had no obligation to the union to report specific details concerning such investigations. Martha and Mary has conducting itself totally in accordance with law. It has a good record... and has made every effort to meet employee needs. "

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