Something sketchy this way comes
'Right To Work' sinks its claws into St. Vincent as strike nears close
It’s possible you may have seen over the past couple weeks some stories about a counter unionization effort among the nurses at St. Vincent Hospital, and maybe you skipped right by them or you read them and you thought “huh, that’s sort of strange” or you read them with the suspicion that there was much more to the story than was being told. I’ve fallen into all three categories myself, but the past couple days I’ve been really digging in on this one and it turns out there’s some spooky stuff at work here!
The abridged version is this: a nefarious right-wing special interest group is trying to use the situation at St. Vincent Hospital to further its national and decades-long crusade to destroy union power in the United States. Whether or not it will work remains to be seen. The full version is going to take some ‘splainin. So let’s get into it.
After a strike that lasted 285 days—the longest nurses’ strike in state history—the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the management at St. Vincent Hospital came to an agreement on a new contract on Dec. 17. Next Monday, Jan. 3, the nurses will vote on whether to accept the contract. If they vote in favor, the contract is locked in.
Now you may remember that during the course of this nearly year-long strike, St. Vincent management hired about 100 “permanent replacement nurses” to fill roles left by the striking nurses. As part of the contract resolution, St. Vincent is going to keep all the permanent replacements and also bring back all the striking nurses. With a COVID surge in full swing, the hospital pitched it as needing all the help they can get. Which, yeah, hard to argue. But here’s the rub: the permanent replacement nurses aren’t represented by the MNA, so you have, in essence, a split staff. While most nurses are union, some aren’t. If you’re someone who hates unions and wants to see them destroyed, this situation affords a unique wedge—just hypothetically if there were someone like that involved with this in any way.
Three days after St. Vincent and the nurses agreed on a contract, one of the permanent replacement nurses filed a petition with the National Labor Review Board to begin the process of decertifying the Massachusetts Nurses Association. This nurse, one Cederic Richard Avola, told the Telegram & Gazette he got 254 nurses to sign the petition, which passes a 30 percent threshold required to trigger the process. Now, someone from the NLRB has to go in and verify the signatures, and, if they’re legit, two paths open up: the MNA, the petitioner and the hospital can all agree to hold an election to decertify the union, or, if they don’t agree to do that, it will go to a hearing. The hearing is scheduled for Jan. 12.
The Telegram attributes a lot of the aforementioned legal process to Avola himself and it struck me as fishy that a rank-and-file nurse would be so fluent in the union decertification process. That’s no slight against nurses, either—this stuff is incredibly wonky and dense and you kind of have to be a policy expert or an attorney to really get it. So I took a look at the National Labor Review Board website to see what I could see about this case, and I saw that Avola was not alone in filing this petition, but rather he was joined by attorneys representing an organization called the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation.
Avola himself confirmed to me, in a roundabout way, that he was working with this foundation. I reached out to him on Facebook requesting an interview and he told me I’d have to go through his attorney. The email address he gave me was for a Glenn Taubman at the domain nrtw.org which is the website for the National Right To Work Foundation.
As a quick aside I’ll note that Avola does not have much of an internet presence. He has a Facebook account and an Instagram. There’s nothing online, save for news stories about this union decertification drive, that ties him to the hospital. After Avola told me I’d have to go through his attorney, I asked if I could get some information on his background. He read the messages but didn’t respond, and it appears he’s since blocked me. I can’t access his profile and, while I can see the messages we sent each other, I can no longer send him new messages. An interview request with his attorney has gone similarly unanswered.
But back to the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation—what the heck is that?
The foundation is essentially a collective of anti-union lawyers who scour the country for cases they can take on to set legal precedents that weaken the power of organized labor. They’re a non-profit, all their cases are pro-bono, and as they point out quite loudly on their website all donations are tax deductible. “Individuals, corporations, companies, associations, and foundations are all eligible to support the work of the Foundation through tax-deductible gifts. The Foundation is a public foundation granted tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The Foundation has background material available to substantiate the tax deductibility of your contribution.”
“Right-to-work” is a sort of conservative shorthand for policy measures intended to break the power of unions and thereby the working people who comprise them. You may have heard of “right-to-work states.” What right-to-work really means is right to not pay union dues while still benefiting from the protection and collective bargaining power of the union. In “right-to-work” states, lawmakers and judges have made it so that you don’t have to pay union dues even if you work a union job. Because it’s just plain un-American that you’d fund the organization that exists to prevent you, as an employee, from being abused by your employer. The net effect for unions is death by a thousand cuts. The less money they collect from employees, the less able they are to fight the employer, and that’s really the point. It’s not about your god-given right as an American to refuse to pay a union, it’s about diminishing the power of organized labor, and thereby the working class.
The foundation’s legal director and vice president is a man by the name of Raymond J. LaJeunesse, Jr. and boy let me tell you, this guy’s a Republican’s Republican.
He’s the vice chairman of the Labor and Employment Practice Group over at the Federalist Society National Lawyers Division. The Federalist Society is basically the central hub for all the vampires and spooks out there who want to destroy the working class forever. Before that, LaJeunesse was the “Advisor for Labor-Related Agencies, Office of the President-Elect, 1980-81,” according to the foundation’s website. The president elect in 1980 was of course one Ronald Reagan, the man perhaps most responsible for the thorough gutting of organized labor in America. It’s cartoonish how anti-union this guy is. He’s argued in front of the Supreme Court four times to weaken the power of unions. He’s written countless articles and papers and all the like.
Then there’s Glenn Taubman, the lawyer representing Avola. He’s also a Federalist Society guy. “He regularly appears before the National Labor Relations Board and various federal courts, representing individual employees only,” reads his Federalist Society write-up. His case list is long, dealing mostly with the NLRB, and his Right To Work Foundation profile includes a link to a handy guide he wrote for how to skirt union dues.
“On the one hand, it is common knowledge that employees have the right to join and assist unions. Less well known, however, is employees’ right to refrain from supporting the union,” he writes.
It’s awful convenient that these heavy hitter anti-union lawyers from deep within the conservative movement’s Batcave decided to partner up with this permanent replacement nurse at a hospital in Massachusetts, isn’t it? True love finds a way, I guess!
But this story gets even weirder. On Dec. 17, the same day the MNA and St. Vincent announced they reached a contract deal, MassLive posted a story in which Avola claimed he’d gotten the “verbal support” of another union to come in and replace the MNA, should be the MNA decertification vote go his way. MassLive accepts Avola at his word that this new union offered a verbal agreement, and framed the story as this new union backing out “in the 11th hour.”
But, even within the story, a representative of this new union denies outright that they’d ever reached an agreement.
AFSCME disputes Avola’s account that a partnership with the replacement nurses was imminent. According to Jim Durkin, the group’s communication’s director, AFSCME does not organize at workplaces where a union already exists.
“We believe in bringing the benefits of union membership to non-union members and their families,” Durkin said. “We most certainly would never entertain organizing workers who cross the picket line.”
On Dec. 15, the AFSCME sent a letter of support to the MNA, as the MassLive article reported. It also quotes MNA leadership verifying that the AFSCME has always supported the striking nurses.
In effect, the story is the word of Avola versus the word of both the AFSCME and the MNA, and MassLive gave Avola the benefit of the doubt in the way the story was framed. The MassLive story leaves the reader with questions of palace intrigue within competing unions. The story’s central question is “Why did this new union back out?” but it does not examine the possibility that the union never got involved.
Let’s return now to the question of Cederic Richard Avola. Who is he? He is the only nurse ever quoted in any story about this union decertification drive. As I’ve gone over before, he came to the hospital as a permanent replacement, there’s no information about his prior background available online, and when I asked him about his background, he blocked me. Both the MassLive and Telegram stories attribute him only as “C. Richard Avola,” and it took some digging and deductive reasoning on my part to figure out his first name was Cederic. If he never responded to my Facebook message, I’d never have confirmed that was indeed his name. If he hadn’t given me his lawyer’s email, I’d have never confirmed that he was partnering with the National Right To Work Legal Defense Fund.
Before assuming the mantle of spokesman for the MNA decertification drive, Avola appeared in one article, back in the fall, alongside several other replacement nurses. The Oct. 12 Telegram headline reads “Nurses working at St. Vincent Hospital say they want to be 'respected' for their decision.” Here’s Avola, second from the right.
This passage curiously frames all the nurses as having worked at St. Vincent for some time, save for a notable exception at the end.
The group of nurses all had at least 15 years of experience. Valery even started at St. Vincent Hospital as a candy striper when she was 14. Lund and George never went out on strike. Terry Gentile and Valery said they went out initially, but later crossed the picket line. Cederic Avola was hired as a permanent replacement nurse.
And the article is littered with quotes from Avola that are, let’s just say… interesting. Take for example this passage:
Avola said his decision to join St. Vincent was to support the community.
“I saw the strike and felt extremely bad for the patients that this hospital cared for because the patients had nothing to do with the strike and their care was suffering,” Avola said. “So I chose to cross the line to give care to those who needed it as part of the oath that I took as a nurse to care for people when they most need it.
“During a pandemic, our patient care should not have to pay the price for a strike. That’s why I came to St. V’s, to support the community the way the community would expect the nurses to support them regardless of their views.”
Valery interjected. “And the patients are grateful we’re here.”
Talk about the company line! The last line here, “Valery interjected…,” implies that the interview was done with all of the nurses in person, and the article is filled with photos that also suggest as much, like the one I included above.
Reporters do not just walk around a hospital collecting a group of nurses to interview and photograph. Interviews like this are arranged and cleared by hospital management through its PR team. Can I prove that for a fact in this specific instance? No. But I’m no rookie. I know how these stories get pitched and how they get assigned to reporters. Off camera there was a person from the hospital public relations team organizing and observing the hangout.
That Avola is one of the nurses’ management picked to talk to a reporter about the merits of crossing the picket line, and that he also happens to be the one spearheading the decertification drive with the help of a national anti-union law foundation? This should raise some serious eyebrows!
With that in mind, take a look at a few more key quotes of his from the piece.
Avola and Valery pushed back on reports the hospital was unsafe.
“This hospital runs just as every other hospital in this country runs; sometimes there’s a 4-to-1 ratio (of patients to nurses), sometimes there’s not, and when there’s not it’s because we’re with patients,” Avola said.
Yeah, you’re with too many patients… the whole point of the strike.
The nurses’ final message was delivered with a sense of weariness: they just wanted the strike to be over.
“Part of me almost wants to say thank you to the strikers for bringing attention to some of the issues,” Avola said.
“Because the issues are important!” George interjected. “Their issues are important.”
“The issues are known; now it’s time to go back to work and let the management and administration work on those issues and move forward,” Avola continued. “Please end the strike and come back. Please.”
This is the exact public relations strategy the hospital employed throughout the strike: Blame the nurses for prolonging the strike, and thereby any problems with care that result from their absence. It’s telling nurses to forget their principles, forget why they began striking in the first place, and come back to work. It’s union busting dressed up like a plea for humanity.
The MNA tried for years to negotiate a safe patient ratio before striking in March. The strike is the result of having brought attention to the issues, as Avola put it, and the management not doing anything about it.
But, still, he tells the Telegram that he thinks the nurses should “let the management and administration work on those issues and move forward.”
As I was digging on this story, I messaged a friend who’s smart and well-versed in union politics. I wasn’t at the point yet where I personally believed Avola could be a management plant—someone hired by the company with the goal of attacking the union and disrupting the strike—but I raised the idea.
“Oh absolutely a plant,” he said. “No doubt in my mind.”
So that’s just a glimpse into the funny little stuff that goes on beyond the headlines in matters having to do with crushing working class power in America. Traditional media is adverse to telling these stories but I’m not :-) please consider throwing me a small amount of bones on a monthly basis so I may make myself a stew
Here’s the kind of story traditional media loves tho
Oh they just eat it up
This will likely be my last post of the year but I will be doing a 2021 recap over the weekend! Sound off in the chat with some of your favorite moments of the year
Have a good night my sweets
We wouldn’t know about these federalist right wing union busting efforts if not for your reporting Bill. Great job! Please keep us posted, especially what can be done to help support the MNA certification. Tenet sucks. Happy New Year.
Make sure you mention the article about being sick and tired of everything. I forget the title but it's got party of a "Sopranos" quote for a title. Kinda sums up the last few years.