Sutter Health Receives Apology From Union for Corporate Campaign Tactics

July 08, 2011

In a welcome example of what can happen when employers fight back against a corporate campaign’s false allegations, HR Policy member Sutter Health this week won a six-year dispute against the Unite Here union, settling defamation charges for $6 million and receiving an apology from the union’s president.  The so-called “dirty linen” dispute began in early 2005 when Unite Here, which represents workers at Sutter Health’s laundry contractor, Angelica Textile, mailed over 11,000 postcards to homes across northern California claiming that the hospital chain did not properly clean its linens.  The postcards warned, “[you] may be bringing home more than your baby if you deliver at a Sutter birthing center.”  Sutter Health filed defamation charges against the union.  A year later, in what would have been one of the largest-ever losses for a U.S. union, a Placer County California Superior Court jury awarded the company $17.2 million.  The decision was appealed, however, and in 2010, a three-judge panel of the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento found that the jury had been improperly instructed and sent the case back to the Superior Court for a retrial.  At that point, Sutter went to mediation, citing “the costs and time associated with a retrial.”  Though the final settlement was “long overdue” and far less than originally awarded, the company was glad to finally be done with the case.  “We’re pleased that the leaders of Unite Here have publicly acknowledged that their actions were inappropriate and offensive,” said Mike Helm, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Sutter Health.  “We truly hope this encourages other labor unions to think twice before using deceptive tactics seeking to scare patients in an attempt to advance a political agenda.”