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Rochester Regional Health among biggest ‘union persuasion’ spenders in 2022

Rochester General Hospital nurses at a rally for Rochester United Nurses and Allied Professionals.
Gino Fanelli
Rochester General Hospital nurses at a rally for Rochester United Nurses and Allied Professionals.

Amid increasingly long hours, short staffing, and concerns over wages, nurses at Rochester General Hospital last year prepared to unionize.

Meanwhile, the hospital system spared no expense to stop them.

A new report by the union advocacy group LaborLab found that Rochester Regional Health paid $1.3 million to a firm that specializes in healthcare industry union-busting. That figure made Rochester Regional Health the third highest spender on such services in the nation in 2022, behind only Amazon and Massachusetts’s McLean Hospital, according to LaborLab.

The group arrived at its conclusion by crunching federal Labor Department data. WXXI News independently verified the spending.

Nurses at RGH voted in favor of unionizing in July under the banner of Rochester United Nurses and Allied Professionals. In the lead-up to the vote, Healthcare Labor Solutions, the firm hired by the hospital, held informational meetings and distributed flyers meant to dissuade employees from forming a union.

Many of the flyers advised employees to “vote no” in the upcoming union elections. Among the warnings were that labor unions cannot guarantee better benefits, that unions spread misinformation, and that a union contract makes hiring new staff difficult.

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One flyer advised workers to be wary of filling out union cards, or even filling out sign-in sheets for union meetings. It argued that writing down your address could allow “a union to make visits to your home at night or when you are not working — often without advance notice.”

Healthcare Labor Solutions insisted that its informational sessions and literature were intended to give employees the straight facts on unions.

“We present our information in the most straightforward fashion as possible, so employees become fully informed voters,” the agreement between Healthcare Labor Solutions President Deborah Long and RRH, filed with the Department of Labor, reads. “We also make our statements in the most unbiased fashion as possible, and we emphasize that eligible voting employees have an equal right to vote for a union and an equal right not to vote for a union.”

A spokesperson for Rochester Regional Health did not return messages seeking comment on the report.

Nate Miller, a labor organizer with Northeast Nurses Association, a coalition of nursing unions, said the real purpose of organizations like Healthcare Labor Solutions is to deter employees from unionizing by scaring them.

“I think the main point for us and what was so despicable about this was that the nurses were coming together because there’s a crisis in the hospital, where nurses were seriously understaffed,” Miller said. “...It’s pretty repugnant to see the company invest in this dumb brainwashing rather than investing in improving safety for patients.”

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.