NEW BEDFORD, Mass. – Registered nurses at St. Luke’s Hospital have filed notice with the National Labor Relations Board seeking an election to join the Massachusetts Nurses Association because they are seeking a strong voice in improving conditions for their patients and for the nurses who provide patients 24-hour a day care.
Owner SouthCoast Health, a highly profitable corporation, has responded by hiring a consultant with ties to a union-busting firm internationally known for intimidating employees seeking to exercise their legal right to unionize. Meanwhile, in Fall River another union is organizing employees at St. Anne’s Hospital under much more democratic conditions.
There are 750 nurses at St. Luke’s who would be represented by the MNA following an election overseen by the NLRB. The nurses filed their petition with the NLRB on Friday, Nov. 2 after requesting a meeting with the hospital president seeking neutrality during organizing. The president did not meet with the nurses.
By far the top concern for nurses has been inadequate nurse staffing levels that directly impact patient care conditions.
“Our nurses are joining together to make St. Luke’s Hospital a safer place for patients,” said Kate Hughes, a nurse in the maternity unit. “Right now hospital management is failing to always provide a safe environment for patient care. Nurses need to be present, to answer questions, anticipate patients’ needs and offer support for vulnerable patients. In the maternity unit, the education nurses provide can be life-saving. Recently I had nine patients at one time. That is unsafe! I handled it, as nurses are trained to do, but I did not have time to make patient connections and feel proud of the care I was able to provide. By forming a union our nurses will have the ability to make positive change, to help ensure our patients have the time they need with our nurses.”
“Far too many of our nurses are assigned too many patients at one time for us to give consistent, high-quality care,” said Josh True, a nurse in the medical-surgical unit. “We have spoken to management about unsafe staffing and other related issues and they do not offer meaningful solutions. That is why we are seeking to form our union with the Massachusetts Nurses Association. Unity with thousands of other nurses around the state will empower us to make changes that help our patients, our nurses and our communities.”
The MNA is the largest union and professional organization of nurses and healthcare professionals in Massachusetts. It represents 23,000 members in healthcare facilities across the state, including nurses at 70 percent of the Commonwealth’s acute care hospitals. The MNA is led by a board of directors that is directly elected by its membership and consists of front-line nurses and other healthcare professionals.
Unequal Organizing Treatment: St. Luke’s vs. Saint Anne’s
While nurses seeking to organize with the MNA at St. Luke’s are being opposed by a consultant with ties to a high-powered anti-union firm, staff at Saint Anne’s Hospital in Fall River seeking to join SEIU 1199 are experiencing much different conditions.
SEIU 1199 has a neutrality agreement with Saint Anne’s, which is owned by Steward Healthcare, an international for-profit hospital corporation. Essentially, Steward has agreed to remain neutral as SEIU 1199 works with Saint Anne’s staff to sign cards and join the union.
‘Notorious’ Union-Buster Hired by SouthCoast
Meanwhile, St. Luke’s owner SouthCoast Health has hired a consultant with ties to a union-busting firm which is internationally “notorious” for running aggressive intimidation campaigns against employees seeking to form a union. This consultant started holding “information” meetings with nurses at St. Luke’s in September.
In Congressional testimony and in a report by a researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science, The Burke Group has been described as reaping tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients “to intimidate, harass and coerce workers who had already indicated their desire to form a union on cards.”
“It was political terror….The majority of the employees thought that their phones were tapped. They talked about hidden cameras in the corners. I thought this was a democratic country. You [should be able] to exercise the right to organize – successful or not.” – A former Chinese Daily News employee said of a TBG anti-union campaign, as quoted in the above testimony and report.
St. Luke’s Owner Highly Profitable
Rather than address nurses’ concerns and improve RN staffing and patient care conditions, St. Luke’s owner, SouthCoast Health, is spending its profits on a union-busting campaign and extreme executive pay. SouthCoast paid its two top executives combined more than $2.5 million in FY2016, the latest year available.
The SouthCoast Hospital Group, of which St. Luke’s is a part, has been profitable every year since 2012 and made $51.4 million in profits last year, according to the Center for Health Information and Analysis. Through June 30 of this year, SouthCoast Hospital Group had made $58.6 million in profits. St. Luke’s has 423 beds – about half the group’s total beds.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.