Steward Holy Family Hospital RNs Vote by 70 Percent for Union Representation by Massachusetts Nurses Association
Holy Family nurses and MNA/NNU staff all smiles after successful vote.
METHUEN, MA -- Culminating a two-year effort to win union representation to improve patient care, registered nurses at Steward Holy Family Hospital voted last night by 70 percent to join the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United (MNA/NNU), the state and nation’s pre-eminent organization of RNs.
The campaign gained momentum when the MNA and Steward Health Care, the new for-profit owner of the system, entered an organizing agreement in October 2010. Under the agreement management remained neutral in the months leading up to the union election and assured a process to maintain accurate communication with employees. The MNA already represents nurses at five other Steward facilities including more than 2,000 registered nurses and Health Care Professionals working at Carney Hospital in Dorchester, Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, Norwood Hospital, St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton and Merrimack Valley Hospital in Haverhill.
Holy Family RNs greeted the election with cheers and hugs after vote was tallied on Monday night after 9 p.m.
“We are thrilled to have achieved this victory, which is not only a victory for nurses, but also for our patients and the community we serve,” said Ed Burke RN, who has worked in the hospitals’ pediatric unit for more than three years.
“We will now have a voice in the future of this facility to ensure safer staffing levels and improved working conditions, which will mean better care for our patients, while also improving this facility’s ability to recruit and retain first rate nursing staff,” said Cheryl Laorenza, RN, a nurse on the hospital’s psychiatric unit for more than four years.
The vote was a 70 percent margin in a secret ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. MNA will represent 357 RNs at the hospital which is part of the Steward Health Care system.
MNA president Donna Kelly-Williams praised the Holy Family RNs for their “courageous effort to stand up for their protected right to advocate for their patients and themselves. When nurses are organized, patients are the biggest beneficiaries,” said Kelly-Williams.
The drive to organize the nurses began in 2009, when RNs began meeting with MNA representatives to discuss concerns about a variety of issues, including the need for improved nurse staffing ratios, improved floating policies, and improvements in job security.
The MNA has been a national leader in its ability, through collective bargaining, to negotiate protections for nurses and patients from hospitals’ attempts to cut costs by cutting care. This spring, MNA-represented nurses at Tufts Medical Center in Boston and St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester and completed widely publicized negotiations to win new union contracts that included limits on nurses’ patient assignments, protections against the use of mandatory overtime, and limits on floating nurses to unfamiliar units. In the agreement reached with Steward last year at other Steward/Caritas facilities, MNA-represented nurses also achieved language to improve staffing and working conditions, while at the same time establishing a landmark defined benefit pension plan.
In the wake of the economic downturn, and the changes in the industry being driven by health care reform, the MNA/NNU reports that its organizing division is fielding a significant increase in calls from non-union nurses, not only in Massachusetts, but also from nurses throughout the Northeast Region who are interested in union representation.
“Non-union nurses out there are seeing the rapid consolidation of the Health Care industry with hospitals merging on nearly a weekly basis. Many hospitals looking for a quick fix to boost their bottom line have gone back to failed strategies of the 90’s — cutting staffing levels, attempting to reduce or eliminate pay and benefits — leaving employees who are without a union with no power to do anything about it,” said Julie Pinkham, RN, MNA executive director. “Then they see their counterparts who have a union voice with the MNA successfully combating these changes, and in many cases, winning important patient safety protections. It is no surprise that in this environment that we are seeing more nurses who want to experience the power of workplace democracy.”
Now that the election is settled, the nurses will begin the work of forming their local committee. The nurses will elect members to their bargaining committee, and have already begun soliciting proposals from colleagues about what they would like to negotiate into their first contract.