Union Pays Hospitals $6 Million Penalty for Sending Postcard Threatening Expecting Mothers
UNITE HERE recently paid a group of hospitals $6 million for defaming the hospitals and playing on the vulnerabilities of expecting mothers. This is the end of a fight that starting almost six years ago. The union, which had a labor dispute with the hospitals’ laundry service, sent a postcard to women of child bearing age claiming the hospitals used unsanitary linens for newborn babies.
UNITE HERE represented a large number of employees at Angelica Textile Services, Inc. (Angelica), a company which cleans hospital linens. The union launched a campaign to unionize more of Angelica’s workers, but was met with opposition. During this labor dispute, the union tried to get hospitals, including Sutter Health’s hospitals, to stop doing business with Angelica. Sutter Health refused. Therefore, the union began a smear campaign against Sutter Health.
The union sent out a postcard to wealthier women of child bearing age in the area with a picture of a newborn, which said:
You may be bringing home more than your baby if you deliver at a Sutter birthing center.
You will do anything to protect your vulnerable newborn from infection—but your Sutter birthing center may not be taking the same precautions. Reports have surfaced that Angelica, the laundry service utilized by Sutter, does not ensure that ‘clean’ linens are free of blood, feces, and harmful pathogens.
Protect your newborn.
Choose your birthing center wisely.
UNITE HERE is engaged in a labor dispute with Angelica Textile Services.
Sadly, the union never actually investigated the hospital’s sanitation practices and did not know if these statements were true. The hospital did a study which found this postcard caused their reputation to suffer, and caused them to lose patients.
Sutter Health sued the union for defamation, trade libel, and intentional interference with prospective economic relations. In 2006, a jury found for the employer and awarded over $17 million. However, this verdict was overturned on appeal because of an error in the jury instructions. In order to avoid further litigation costs, Sutter Health opted for mediation to resolve the dispute. As a result, last month the union has agreed to pay Sutter Health $6 million, and issued a public apology. The hospital plans to invest that money in patient care.
This is just one example of the tactics unions use to strong arm employers into seeing things their way. The results here serve as a reminder that employers do have recourse against unethical union tactics. Employers should know their rights in dealing with unions. Brody and Associates regularly advises its clients on union-related matters and provides union-free training. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.965.0560.