NEW BEDFORD — Registered nurses at St. Luke’s Hospital voted Thursday to form a union and join the Massachusetts Nurses Association in an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, according to Joe Markman, a spokesman for the MNA.
The vote was 350 to 283, he said. The union will represent 722 nurses.
"We're thrilled to be coming together as a union," said Deb Falk, a nurse in the emergency department at St. Luke’s, said in a statement. "Those of us in the Emergency Department always felt kind of separated from the nurses on other floors, and I've loved getting to know so many great nurses throughout the hospital during our organizing. I really feel like we're a close family now. It's been amazing seeing so many of our co-workers coming together to improve conditions for our patients and our community."
“St. Luke’s nurses are united!” said St. Luke’s RN Kate Hughes in a statement. “We hope to work with everyone at St. Luke’s in a positive way to create excellent outcomes. Our top concern has been the safety of our patients. As unionized nurses we will work together to make sure every St. Luke’s patient has the safest possible care environment.”
MNA president and registered nurse Donna Kelly-Williams congratulated the nurses for their brave effort to form a union.
“When nurses are organized, patients are the biggest beneficiaries,” Kelly-Williams said. “Nurses at St. Luke’s now have a legally protected seat at the table with management to define their nursing practice and address issues impacting patients under their care.”
St. Luke’s nurses are planning to move quickly to negotiate their first contract.
Southcoast Health opposed the move to unionize. It provided only a written reaction Friday, declining to make an executive available for an interview.
President and CEO Keith Hovan called the vote "unfortunate."
“While the announced results of yesterday’s vote at St. Luke’s Hospital are unfortunate, we remain fully committed to ongoing collaboration with our nurses to provide exceptional care and service to our patients," he said in a emailed statement. "As we move forward in this process, exceptional care and service for our patients will remain at the center of all that we do."
Patricia Giramma, a spokeswoman for Southcoast Health, said the results of the vote will not be certified for seven days, and Southcoast is waiting to see if the voting process was fair.
"We owe it to our nurses at St. Luke’s Hospital to ensure that the election was a true representation of their intentions without influence from objectionable conduct or unfair labor practices as defined by the National Labor Relations Act," she said in an email.
Southcoast will take the time until the vote is certified to consider the results and the organization's next steps, she said.
Before the vote, Hovan sent a letter to the nurses in which he said collaborating is the best way to solve problems.
“Separating ourselves into conflicting groups with competing interests is never an effective solution, and only seeks to divide us instead of uniting us,” he said.
The company hired consultants from The Burke Group, which specializes in helping management avoid employee unionization.
The MNA is the largest union and professional organization of nurses and healthcare professionals in the 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.
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