Truman Medical Center lab and tech workers are still fighting for a union

Emily Park

When Shannon Carpenter started working at Truman Medical Center 18 months ago, she noticed stark differences from her former place of employment, where she and her co-workers were represented by a union.

“It was really hard for me coming into Truman after leaving a union environment,” says Carpenter, who’s a laboratory assistant in the specimen receiving department. “I did not feel safe to go into my manager’s office to talk to her about any issues or any ideas that I had.”

So when some TMC coworkers approached Carpenter earlier this year about the possibility of unionizing with SEIU Healthcare Missouri, she was quick to join the fight.

In August, Carpenter and about 75 other TMC workers held a rally outside of Truman Medical Center to push for the hospital’s administration to recognize the union. Three months later, TMC has not recognized the union. The hospital refuses to do so until a vote is held under the process of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). 

In that time, lab and tech workers have alleged continued use of retaliation and intimidation tactics. Earlier this month, SEIU submitted another unfair labor practice charge to NLRB against the hospital. This charge follows one submitted in September after a union supporter was disciplined for the first time in her 13 years of employment at TMC.

This time around, one of Carpenter’s co-workers in the lab was terminated.

“I really think it was due to her being associated with being involved in fighting for the union,” Carpenter says. 

Carpenter’s former co-worker was a specimen receiver who had started working for the hospital a few weeks before the rally. Carpenter says the employee was being trained by one of the leading workers fighting for the union and was quick to join union efforts.

After the now-terminated employee was seen participating in the August rally, she was immediately moved to a different shift and eventually fired in mid-October. A spokesperson for SEIU familiar with the employee’s experience told The Pitch that the employee didn’t have any issues with management until after she was seen at the rally.

The unfair labor practice charge the SEIU submitted alleges that the employee was terminated because of her involvement with union organizing. It demands that she be reinstated. The investigation into the charge is expected to take a few months.

TMC denies the allegations.

“Truman has never and will never discipline or certainly terminate anyone for taking part in union activities,” Nancy Lewis, a spokesperson for TMC told The Pitch in an email. “Never.”

Since filing the first charge, TMC workers have reported that the administration has let up on the alleged intimidation tactics. Carpenter says informative flyers she puts out in the employee break room used to end up in the trash. Now the flyers stay put.

Hospital administration has also agreed to meet with the union organizers later this month to discuss terms for an election to decide if the hospital will recognize the union.

“Truman has deep respect for its employees,” Lewis says. “For that reason, we have told the SEIU that we welcome the kind of secret ballot vote backed by the National Labor Relations Board process. Our employees deserve a say, and they deserve to not have their vote made public to the SEIU or their co-workers. If our employees say they want to be a part of the union, we will 100% support them.”

Carpenter says she hopes the hospital will give union workers an opportunity to educate their co-workers about the union prior to the election.

“What we’re wanting to see is a fair election, bringing the labor board and making sure the numbers are being counted properly,” Carpenter says. “We want a process that is free from intimidation, retaliation, and interference from management.”

On Twitter: @ByEmilyAPark.

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