Florida nurses vote to unionize
By Charles Idelson
National Nurse Magazine - July | Aug | Sept 2022 Issue
Citing a desire for improved staffing and a strengthened voice in patient care protections, registered nurses at Coral Gables Hospital in South Florida voted by 57 percent in July to join National Nurses Organizing Committee-Florida/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU).
“Coral Gables nurses are ecstatic to join the national nurses movement,” said Dorotea Reyes, an intensive care unit RN at Coral Gables. “From the beginning, we have sought a voice in patient care to protect our patients and to recruit and retain experienced nurses to care for our community. We can’t wait to begin bargaining our first contract.”
In a secret ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, the RNs voted by 57 percent, 64 to 48, to join NNOC/NNU. The union will represent 160 RNs at the hospital, which is owned by Steward Health Care, a for-profit hospital chain with 39 facilities in nine states. Steward acquired Coral Gables last August from Tenet Healthcare Corporation, another large, for-profit hospital chain.
With Coral Gables, NNOC-Florida now represents 8,000 Florida RNs at 16 hospitals across the state, including two other former Tenet hospitals in the Miami area, Florida Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale and Palmetto General Hospital in Hialeah. Nationally, NNU affiliates represent nearly 225,000 RNs from California to Florida.
Joan Reynolds, an intensive care unit RN at Palmetto, said her Steward colleagues were “excited” to welcome Coral Gables RNs “to our NNOC/NNU Florida family. We stand with you.”
NNU President Jean Ross, RN also extended the union’s greetings to the Coral Gables RNs. “We are proud of Coral Gables nurses for taking this major step. We look forward to working with you to achieve better conditions for all Florida nurses and patients.”
For Coral Gables RNs, addressing persistent staffing shortages was a key issue in their decision to unionize.
“When we are short staffed, we know it increases the risk for our patients. Nurses and support staff can’t provide the excellent care our patients deserve when staffing is unsafe,” said Juliette Ortega, RN who works in a surgical step-down unit at the hospital. “Together, we can hold our hospital accountable to the highest standards of care and safety through a strong contract that includes safeguards for staffing.”
The nurses are also seeking a stronger voice in patient care delivery overall, improved protections in the workplace, and better economic standards for their colleagues and their families. All those issues, they say, are critical to keeping experienced nurses at the bedside and recruiting new nurses at a time of growing national concern about the willingness of RNs to work under morally distressing and injurious conditions.
Leroy Desance, an intensive care RN at Coral Gables, noted the RNs have seen “too many of our experienced and devoted colleagues leave. With a union contract,” he added, the RNs can upgrade their standards “so that we can recruit and retain experienced nurses who want to service our community.”
Next, the nurses will elect a team to represent them in negotiations for a first contract with Steward, and they will survey the RNs about the key issues over which to bargain.