NEW YORK NURSE: September 2008
by Mark Genovese
Registered nurses at Benedictine Hospital in Kingston have won the right to a union-representation election.
As this edition of New York Nurse went to press, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had rejected the hospital’s attempts to further delay the setting of an election date. The election was scheduled to take place on Sept. 18.
“We are so ready to have an election,” said organizing committee member Mary Sue D’Orazio. “The hospital has employed the usual stalling tactics, but the delay has not changed our determination to join NYSNA and have a united voice on behalf of ourselves and our patients.”
Insufficient nurse staffing, non-competitive salaries, and lack of a voice in decisions regarding nursing policy prompted the RNs to seek NYSNA representation. “We sought the help of a labor union because so much more can be accomplished by working together,” D’Orazio said.
Nurses filed a petition for election on June 17, with signatures from a majority of the hospital’s 250 RNs. The same day, they presented a letter to hospital CEO Thomas Dee asking that the election campaign be a period of free and fair discussion and debate on union representation. Dee rejected the request, saying in a letter to the nurses: “We will fight NYSNA’s every effort to inject itself into the Benedictine community.”
The hospital then hired consultants Clifton, Budd & DeMaria to conduct an aggressive anti-union campaign. The firm engineered an effort to delay the election during hearings before the NLRB in Albany. For several weeks, Benedictine management refused requests from the NLRB to negotiate an agreement on which nurses would constitute the bargaining unit.
Benedictine management contended that nurses at Kingston Hospital should also be included in an election because the hospitals will be joined under a single unified governance structure, as required by the Berger Commission. It also tried to exploit recent NLRB decisions on the supervisory status of Benedictine RNs by contending that some Benedictine nurses have managerial responsibilities. “We don’t hire nurses or fire them,” D’Orazio replied. “We don’t write policies or do official evaluations.”
NLRB officials agreed.
U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey sent a letter in support of the nurses’ organizing efforts to hospital management. “The call for unionization should not be viewed by the administration at Benedictine as something counterproductive to hospital goals,” Hinchey wrote. “In fact, unionization of the nursing staff will help to improve policy on an array of issues ranging from working conditions and nurse-to-patient ratios, to the role nurses will play in determining standards of care.” He added that a union affiliation will help the hospital recruit and retain qualified nurses.
NYSNA members in other Lower Hudson bargaining units also expressed their support. Nancy Skeens, vice chair at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, praised NYSNA’s work in a local newspaper in regulating RNs work schedules and in helping them solve labor-related problems.
Sue Casadone, president of the LBU at St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers, wrote in a letter to another local paper: “Does Benedictine have an unlimited supply of cash to give to union busters? Wouldn’t those funds be better utilized by preserving the excellent nursing care and putting those dollars at the bedside of your patients rather than into the pockets of high priced attorneys?”