State of the union: Overworked nurses, docs organize nationwide

by Zack Budryk |Aug 4, 2016 10:47am – Fierce Healthcare

Union activity is on the rise in hospitals across the nation as frustrated doctors and nurses say hospitals value profits over patients and encourage a culture of overwork to make up for inadequate staffing.

For example, nurses at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia voted to form a union in April, to protest unsafe conditions and inadequate staffing, according to The Nation.

Meanwhile, in January, nurses at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, owned by the for-profit Tenet chain, voted by a wide margin to join the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals (PASNAP), The Nation reports. St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia joined shortly after.

Even doctors are fed up, according to the article. After years of tension within the workplace, three doctors in Minnesota joined a professional unit of Steelworkers Local 9460, which finalized its first contract at Lake Superior Community Health Center in Duluth.

Lack of adequate staffing is frequently cited as the reason for such organizing efforts, according to the article. A March PASNAP survey of recently organized nurses found that 70 percent say they’ve never worked in an organization that had sufficient staffing. Yet, research shows that in addition to improving workplace conditions, increased staffing levels leads to better patient outcomes, while inadequate staffing is a major driver of mortality.

Established healthcare unions also report recent successes. Just this week, the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, which represents 5,000 workers at Boston’s Steward Health Care System, signed a contract with the system to maintain health benefits while agreeing on a 5.5 percent raise over three years for its technicians and non-clinical staff, according to The Boston Globe.

In West Virginia, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered Bluefield Regional Medical Center and Greenbrier Valley Medical Center to recognize nurses’ right to organize and join them at the collective bargaining table, according to the Register-Herald.

Nurses and doctors who serve on the frontline of care are ideally poised to lead on labor issues, PASNAP President Patty Eakin told The Nation. “One of the biggest things we’re going to get out of [a union],” she said, “is a legal voice, and a way to raise our voices up together and say, ‘This has to change.’”

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