MIDDLEBURY — The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will be asked to hold a hearing to reconcile 16 challenged ballots that could determine whether Porter Medical Center’s nurses form a union.
An impressive 146 of PMC’s 150 nurses turned out on Thursday, Nov. 7, to cast ballots on whether to form a union under the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.
In voting on Thursday night, 72 Registered Nurses cast ballots to approve the union petition, with 58 opposed. But there were also 16 ballots cast that were challenged by either the union or the Porter administration. Since the difference between the “yes” and “no” votes (14 tallies) is less than the number of 16 challenged ballots, the matter must be referred to the NRLB in Boston to hold a hearing to resolve the matter.
That process could take a few months, according to Porter administration spokesman Ron Hallman.
Union spokesperson Alice Leo, RN, is confident that the NLRB will affirm a majority vote in favor of the union.
“We voted yes for Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals because we want to be strong advocates for quality patient care,” Leo said in a written statement provided by union organizers. “Now that we are organized, we have an equal voice with the administration about our working conditions — and our working conditions are the conditions in which quality patient care happens. The NLRB has fair and impartial procedures in place to determine the eligibility of the remaining ballots. We are confident the board will ratify our decision to form our union.”
Leo was unavailable for further comment as the Addison Independent went to press at noon on Friday.
Union supporters said they believe unionizing will:
• Ensure safe staffing to “meet our patient’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.”
• Secure adequate resources to assist nursing in the delivery of “safe, quality patient care.”
• Achieve a culture of continual learning and education to keep nursing knowledge and skills relevant to the rapidly changing health care environment.
• Improve recruitment and retention and improve working conditions for nurses in all clinical settings.
• Result in negotiation of a legally binding contract that fosters “an environment of professionalism and respect where nurses have an equal voice in decision-making.”
Hallman said the Porter Medical Center administration was “extremely pleased and proud of the voter turnout. Our goal from the beginning of this was to hear from all of the nurses.”
He added he believed the tone of the union debate and process has been “respectful. We believe we have been open, honest and factual.” Hallman stressed that the administration and union supporters have the common, top goal of ensuring excellent patient care.
Union supporters in their press release disputed the administration’s assertion of a “respectful” process regarding the unionizing effort.
“The nurses voted ‘yes,’ despite an onslaught of aggressive anti-union tactics by the hospital administration,” stated a press release sent by Leo and Amy Shollenberger of Action Circles Inc., a Montpelier-based consulting company.
Hallman said the administration offered a “series of factual, educational presentations” prior to the vote in which Porter Medical Center management presented its perspectives on why a union might not be in the best interests of employees and the hospital.
“We did stick to the facts,” Hallman said. “We wanted to make sure our nurses were educated about the pros and cons.”
The hospital administration issued its own press release to all staff of Porter Medical Center and of Porter Practice Management (PPM) providers following Thursday’s vote.
“We want to thank the entire organization for their respectful efforts during the past few weeks,” the release stated. “Even if we do not agree on everything, it is important for us all to come together as a team at this time and focus on delivering outstanding health care services to our community each and every day at the hospital, our nursing home and throughout our PPM practices.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]