NEW YORK NURSE: December 2008
by Mark Genovese
It took nearly seven weeks, but the 200 registered nurses at Benedictine Hospital have officially joined NYSNA.
On Sept. 18, nurses at the Kingston facility knew they had voted in favor of making NYSNA their collective bargaining representative. But their ballots were impounded because of an unresolved challenge to the election by hospital management.
So the ballots remained sealed while an understaffed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Washington, DC, worked through its backlog of cases. Meanwhile, in anticipation of a successful outcome, the nurses moved forward with establishing their bargaining unit. They drew up a set of LBU rules, elected officers, formed committees, and surveyed members on what they need in a first contract.
On Oct. 31, the board announced it had dismissed the hospital’s challenge. Benedictine nurses watched enthusiastically during the final tally on Nov. 5, learning that they had chosen NYSNA by an overwhelming 2-to-1 margin.
“We’ve worked a long time for this,” said Benedictine RN and organizing committee member Julia Motti. “We felt we didn’t have a professional voice, that we weren’t being listened to. The vote total showed just how much we need a union here.”
“It’s been so exciting to see how everyone came together as the election drew near,” Paula Horvers, another organizing committee member. “Everyone understood that we needed a contract that protects our salaries, benefits, and working conditions.”
A handful of challenged ballots were not counted in the total, but they were not enough to change the outcome. These ballots were cast by nurses who were told by Benedictine management just days before the election in one last effort to manipulate the pool of potential voters, that they were instead employees of a new “paper company” called “Nistel.” Although the hospital challenged the “Nistel” nurses’ ballots, the NLRB didn’t rule out NYSNA’s right to bargain for them.
“For the RNs at Benedictine, this election was a matter of respect for their profession and for the valuable work they do,” said Lorraine Seidel, NYSNA Economic and General Welfare program director. “For too long, the nurses have felt that management was treating them like inferiors. Nurses wanted someone to help them fight for better working conditions and an opportunity to take part in the decision making that affects their practice.”