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UAW leader targets Toledo Hospital

The United Auto Workers' 45,000 members and retirees in northwest Ohio won't be going to Toledo Hospital for appendectomies and other surgery if a top union leader has his way.

Lloyd Mahaffey, director of the union's Toledo-based western Ohio region, has asked the union rank-and-file to shun the area's largest hospital and will try to eliminate the facility as an option when health plans at UAW employers come up for renewal.

Mr. Mahaffey, who is angry over what he describes as anti-union conduct of hospital managers in an unsuccessful UAW organizing drive, vows to use the Detroit-based union's considerable clout to steer business to unionized hospitals, including Medical College of Ohio Hospitals and St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

The UAW won an election to represent 2,600 nurses and others at St. Vincent less than two years ago.

Some workers at the Medical College of Ohio Hospitals are represented by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

“We've got two unionized hospitals in Toledo,” Mr. Mahaffey said. “We're trying to encourage everybody to go to union facilities just as we would with other goods and services.”

“The Toledo Hospital is not anti-union,” replied spokesman Tim Langhorst.

A majority of the facility's 3,300 employees rejected representation by the UAW last month in elections that had a 98 percent turnout, he said. “Our employees have spoken. ... We feel the union should be respectful of that.”

The UAW represents workers at 60 northwest Ohio companies, including such major Toledo employers as DaimlerChrysler AG, General Motors Corp., and Ford Motor Co.

Labor agreements with the Big Three automakers and some other employers give the union veto authority in health plan selections, Mr. Mahaffey noted.

He said he intends to exercise that authority.

One option, Mr. Mahaffey said, would be to shift UAW members into health plans offered by Cleveland-based Medical Mutual of Ohio, which excludes Toledo Hospital.

Such a move could be a blow to Maumee-based Paramount Health Care, which is owned by the same organization as Toledo Hospital: ProMedica Health System.

About 35,000 UAW workers and their family members represent 17 percent of the enrollment of the health maintenance organization.

Paramount has 205,000 enrollees and listed revenues of $306 million in 2000, according to the organization's figures and records at the Ohio Department of Insurance.

Executives of the health maintenance organization could not be reached for comment.

Asked about the potential impact of UAW plans on Paramount, Mr. Mahaffey said: “It means they will lose business if I have my say.”

He has had preliminary discussions with leaders of other unions about asking their members to patronize only unionized hospitals.

Mr. Mahaffey, the UAW's highest-ranking official in western Ohio, sits on a 19-member international executive board that sets national policy for the union.

The issue arose at a May 11 UAW conference for about 450 union members and leaders in Region 2-B.

There, he accused Toledo Hospital managers and officials of parent ProMedica of “the most anti-union, vile behavior I've ever seen from any organization - an organization that relies on UAW dollars to stay in existence,” according to a report in the labor organization's Toledo Union Journal newspaper.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Mahaffey claimed there were attempts during the organizing campaign to link the union to organized crime by showing a photo of a severed horse's head - a mob stereotype - at a meeting for employees called by managers to discuss unionization.

The hospital's spokesman denied the claim.

Mr. Langhorst said the hospital presented “fair and balanced” information on unionization.

ProMedica has positive relations with labor leaders at unionized hospitals it operates elsewhere in northwest Ohio, he added.

An unfair labor practices charge against ProMedica because of union complaints during the Toledo Hospital campaign awaits a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board.

“It's really unfortunate he [Mr. Mahaffey] is publicly discussing this when the NLRB is still reviewing some of those issues,” Mr. Langhorst said.

St. Vincent Mercy, which is owned by Mercy Health Partners, welcomed the UAW leader's statements.

“St. Vincent ... appreciates the endorsement of Lloyd Mahaffey, one of the community's highly regarded labor leaders,” spokesman Megan Manahan said in a written statement.

“We look forward to serving those members of the community who seek our quality services.”

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