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The National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of Auburn Memorial Medical Services employees Friday after a hearing over which categories of workers would be considered part of a bargaining unit for the purposes of a vote to unionize.

The National Labor Relations Board issued a decision Friday following a hearing last month regarding which categories of employees at Auburn Memorial Medical Services would be allowed to vote in an effort to unionize.

The hearing was held in late September after the petitioning employees, who are seeking to form a union under 1199 SEIU Healthcare Workers East, and AMMS administration disagreed over which employees should be included in the bargaining unit.

According to the board hearing officer's decision, the petitioners sought to include approximately 20 types of employees including registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and more, while the administration said the unit should also include 14 nurse practitioners, seven physician assistants, four nurse midwives and one clinical coordinator.

The officer ruled in the petitioner's favor, finding that the registered nurses, the only professional-level employees sought by the petitioners, shared "a community of interest sufficiently distinct from the nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and nurse midwives to constitute an appropriate voting unit." 

"I conclude that the positions of nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and midwives have important and significant distinguishing features that weigh against requiring that they be included in a voting unit with RNs," the decision reads.

The officer also ruled that the multi-facility bargaining unit, constituting the 16 different offices divided among seven addresses operated by AMMS, was appropriate.

Matthew Chadderdon, vice president of marketing communications and public affairs at Auburn Community Hospital, which is affiliated with AMMS but does not directly employ those workers, said the decision did not change the administration's view of the situation.

"We've always said that these employees should be allowed to vote to unionize if that's what they're interested in doing," Chadderdon said in a phone interview Friday.

Chadderdon, who had not yet seen the decision, said the administration had argued against the multi-facility approach and for the inclusion of the disputed categories because the "one-size-fits-all approach" was contrary to how AMMS operates and would inhibit flexibility.

"With that said, we encourage our employees to get the facts to vote and to see what happens," Chadderdon said.

In reaching the conclusion, the officer cited a number important factors including that the nurse practitioners and physician assistants frequently operate as supervisors when doctors are absent, are salaried rather than paid on an hourly rate, and have additional capabilities like the discretion to prescribe drugs or order lab tests.

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Similarly, the officer ruled that midwives are sufficiently distinct because of differing certification requirements and independent employment agreements with the employer.

Another type of position, a clinical coordinator, of which there is only one, must vote under challenge, according to the decision.

Anne Bishop, an AMMS nurse who started the process with 1199 SEIU, said the decision, which, like Chadderdon, she had not yet seen, was "amazing" when reached by phone Friday evening.

"I am very excited about it. That is great news, I'm ecstatic."

Bishop said she would quickly reach out to the union's representatives to determine their next steps, which she said would likely mean creating a listing of eligible employees and determining the date of the election and the number of polling sites for the secret ballot vote.

According to Bishop, the employees and the hospital administration had agreed upon an Oct. 18 election date. Documentation from the NLRB was unclear, as it cites a Sept. 26 election date, presumably unchanged from the date set prior to the hearing.

The effort to unionize began, according to Bishop, in response to concerns regarding wages and raises, benefits — particularly health insurance costs, and time off.

AMMS is a multi-specialty group practice that, according to its mission statement, seeks to "engage in the practice of medicine and serve the medical needs of the community served by Auburn Community Hospital, by providing office based primary care and specialty services."

The group includes practices for diabetes and endocrinology, ENT, gastroenterology, general surgery, nephrology, neurology, OBGYN services, orthopedic surgery, podiatry, primary care, pulmonary care and urology, according to Chadderdon.

All members of the medical staff at AMMS have full hospital privileges at Auburn Community Hospital, but AMMS employees are not employed by the hospital, Chadderdon said.

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Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or ryan.franklin@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin

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