NEW YORK NURSE: October/November 2008
by Mark Genovese
NYSNA supporters at Benedictine Hospital in Kingston were certain they’d won their union election. But moments after the polls closed on Sept. 18, they could do nothing more than watch as an official from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) sealed the ballot box and whisked their votes away to Washington.
“Management had tried for weeks to prevent an election,” said Mary Sue D’Orazio, a member of the nurses’ organizing committee. “They knew they were going to lose, so they played the one card they had left – stop the bargaining unit from being certified by preventing the votes from being counted.”
Management asked the NLRB in Washington, D.C., to review an August ruling by the board’s regional office that granted the RNs the right to an election. Management contended the potential bargaining unit would be inappropriate because it does not include RNs from nearby Kingston Hospital, a separate employer.
The board in Washington had not ruled on management’s appeal by election time, which necessitated impounding of the ballots. This played neatly into management’s hands. As this edition of New York Nurse went to press, the NLRB has not issued a ruling on the appeal.
“Obviously we’re disappointed with management,” D’Orazio said. She and her fellow organizing committee members had worked hard to organize NYSNA support. “This was the will of the people. Isn’t it supposed to be the American way for people to have the right to vote, and to have those votes count?”
“Lincoln freed the slaves,” added her colleague, Ann Krom, “Benedictine should free the ballots.”
Benedictine nurses are seeking to join NYSNA because they want a unified voice. Nurse staffing was insufficient and salaries weren’t high enough to retain experienced nurses and attract new hires. The CEO made promises that were not kept, benefits and policies were changed arbitrarily, and RNs were treated unfairly. This is what made them seek out NYSNA.
With NYSNA’s help, they formed a core committee. “We spent countless hours of our own time after work, on breaks, skipped lunch to go to floors to answer questions in group meetings or to talk to our colleagues one-on-one,” D’Orazio said. “Attendance was high at organizational meetings and everyone was eager to get started. We really wanted to have the protection of a union in place.” The organizing committee produced newsletters to quickly relay crucial information to the nurses. They heard first-hand from NYSNA members about the benefits of NYSNA representation.
Since the election, the nurses have been moving ahead with the process of establishing their bargaining unit in anticipation of a successful outcome. They plan to hold elections for officers within the next few weeks. Then they’ll draw up a set of rules for the bargaining unit, form committees to take care of grievances and build membership unity, and start surveying members on their priorities in order to develop proposals for a first
“We were robbed, but we’re moving forward, building the union,” said Benedictine RN Sharon Miller, “because we know we won.”