The St. Joseph's building is one of the older facilities belonging to Mission Health in Asheville. Colby Rabon / Carolina Public Press

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Mission Health is again calling for the delay of a National Labor Relations Board hearing on unionization efforts by National Nurses United.

Originally scheduled for March 17, the federal labor relations board had agreed to delay the meeting until Monday after Mission requested a postponement as the coronavirus crisis deepened.

Now, as the battle against COVID-19 escalates, Mission Health says it still needs its employees to remain on campus.

“The situation has not improved,” Mission said in a Tuesday filing with the NLRB.

[The latest: North Carolina coronavirus daily updates]

As of March 29, Mission said, its staff was providing inpatient treatment to two confirmed COVID-19 cases and was caring for a total of 122 patients who are “actively under investigation for potential COVID-19.”

“The employer (Mission) anticipates it will continue to experience this volume of cases or greater for several weeks,” the filing said.

Mission said staff members who would testify at the April 6 hearing “are directly involved in managing the employer’s response” to coronavirus and their participation on that date “would impede the employer’s ability to provide health care and would negatively impact patients.”

Further, the company said, health care facilities are deemed an essential business under current county and state emergency orders.

In response to Mission’s first request for a delay, made March 12, National Nurses United had said the hospital system sought a postponement “so that it can engage in its union-busting tactics.”

It took a similar approach in trying to beat back Mission’s second request, again pointing to the hospital’s meetings with employees to convince them that unionization is a bad idea and calling Mission’s anti-labor campaign “unrelenting.”

“If the employer can hold captive-audience meetings and have managers lobby nurses against the union while preparing for COVID-19, they can participate in a representation hearing,” the union told the labor relations board in an earlier filing.

The board should continue as planned with next week’s hearing by using video conferencing to address the issue of social distancing, the union proposed.

National Nurses United is seeking to represent all full-time, regular part-time and per diem registered nurses employed by Mission at 509 Biltmore Ave. and 428 Biltmore Ave. in Asheville. It expects about 1,600 employees to be represented by the union if it wins a pending election.

The coming hearing is the first step in having the NLRB determine the appropriate class of workers who would be represented. Both Mission and the union will have the right to appeal NLRB’s decision.

Separately, Mission Health announced this week that it will erect tents at its hospitals to create additional capacity for triaging patients outside emergency departments.

The tents are part of Mission’s emergency planning protocols, an announcement said, and staff will participate in training exercises and drills before the tents may need to become operational.

The number of positive COVID-19 cases in the state has not yet crested that level of need, health officials have said.

Neil Cotiaux

Neil Cotiaux is a contributing writer for Carolina Public Press. He is based in Wilmington. Send an email to info@carolinapublicpress.org to contact him.

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