Caritas Christi signs labor accord with 1199 SEIU

Caritas Christi Health Care, the corporate parent of Caritas Carney Hospital on Dorchester Avenue, has signed an accord with two unions to allow "free and fair" voting conditions for the system's nearly 7,000 employees as they decide whether to form unions or not.

Nurses at the Carney are already organized through the Massachusetts Nurses Association, but most workers there are not represented.

Service Employees Industrial Union Local 1199 - based in Dorchester - is a health care workers union that expanded into Massachusetts and other states from New York earlier this decade. The Area Trades Council was also party to the accord.

The main goal of 1199SEIU is to organize all the major hospitals in the region, taking over entire hospitals one at a time. Though the union has recently centered efforts on Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in the Longwood Medical Area, Caritas Christi is the first to sign such an agreement. As many as 7,000 workers in the Caritas system may be eligible to unionize through the deal.

Mike Fadel, Massachusetts executive vice president for 1199SEIU, said the breakthrough agreement was possible largely because of the "enlightened thinking" and cooperation of Caritas Christi CEO Ralph de la Torre, who took charge at the system last year.

"He has observed our work from a distance," said Fadel. "Fairly early on, he indicated a willingness to work together."

The agreement signed on Tuesday makes a general statement about the mutual interest and shared goals of the unions and the Catholic hospital group. It also lays out the "nuts and bolts" procedures through which union elections will be held.

Fadel said he thought that union elections at Brighton's St. Elizabeth's Medical Center and Dorchester' Carney Hospital could take place in a relatively short amount of time.

"The exact timing will be determined by the interest at each hospital," said Fadel. Approximately 450 positions at Carney could be unionized through the SEIU 1199 accord, Fadel said. The accord went into effect immediately.

Fadel told the Reporter that the 1199 SEIU saw strong potential for bolstering Carney's position in the health care market. He said the union hopes to use Laboure College, adjacent to Carney, as a feeder for many of its members.

"We've got waiting lists of people who could maximize Laboure's potential," Fadel said.

- BILL FORRY & PETE STIDMAN