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Tufts Medical Center, SEIU local tangle over union drive

Tufts Medical Center has denied claims that hospital administrators made threats to replace workers who show interest in joining a union.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/File
Tufts Medical Center has denied claims that hospital administrators made threats to replace workers who show interest in joining a union.

A labor union says Tufts Medical Center is running an aggressive campaign to stop hospital employees from organizing, holding meetings and showing videos to discourage workers from obtaining union cards.

The Service Employees International Union, Local 1199, which represents 52,000 health care workers in Massachusetts, said hospital administrators in some cases made threats to replace workers who show interest in joining the union, which would be a violation of federal law. Tufts Medical Center disputes the claims.

“There are serious concerns about the campaign of misinformation and fear being waged against caregivers by Tufts executives,” said Jeff Hall, a spokesman for Local 1199. “This is the kind of extreme ideological campaign you’d expect from Scott Walker or Walmart — not an institution like Tufts Medical Center.”

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Union officials this week sent a letter outlining their complaints to Tufts Medical’s chief executive, Dr. Michael Wagner. They have asked hospital officials to sign a document agreeing not to interfere with workers’ attempts to unionize, but hospital officials have declined to do so.

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Tufts officials said they are simply engaging their employees, as they do on a number of issues.

“At Tufts Medical Center we are committed to a collaborative and informed workforce, and we regularly engage in discussion with our employees about many topics related to health care and their jobs,” spokeswoman Julie Jette said.

“Our approach to talking about employees’ rights under the law is no different. When the SEIU began passing out leaflets in front of our hospital, our employees had questions and we addressed them openly and honestly.”

The union represents workers at Boston Medical Center as well as at several hospitals owned by Steward Health Care System, such as St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton and Carney Hospital in Dorchester.

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The union began a campaign to organize about 1,000 workers at Tufts Medical in service, clerical, and technical jobs earlier this year, when the 415-bed Chinatown hospital was having talks about a potential merger with BMC. Those talks have since collapsed.

Tufts Medical employs about 5,000 people, including more than 1,000 nurses who are members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, another labor union.

Joe White, a housekeeping worker at Tufts for 35 years, said hospital administrators are discouraging him and other employees from unionizing.

“The hospital has been running classes about the union and suggesting it’s not a good idea to have the union in here,” White said.

“I think it would be better off using those resources to pay us a decent salary and putting it to patient care. I think it’s just a scare tactic. They’re calling it union training.”

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White, who makes less than $20 an hour for emptying the hospital’s trash bins, said he thinks joining a union would help him and other workers get raises.

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.