By CASEY CROUCHER
After CEO and president Vic Giulianelli of St. Mary's Hospital rejected a petition presented by registered nurses for recognition of their union Wednesday, the nurses decided to take their efforts to Albany.
Members of the St. Mary's Nurses Organizing Committee presented a petition of signatures to Giulianelli for immediate union recognition. The signatures were of registered nurses who have also signed union authorization cards to join the New York State Nurses Association, the state's largest union and professional association for registered nurses, with 37,000 members.
The petition letter presented to Giulianelli by the committee asked him to recognize the union so the nurses could negotiate terms of employment with him as soon as possible.
"We hope to reach a meaningful, binding agreement on the best way to provide quality care and lay the groundwork for the nurses at St. Mary's to sustain long, productive careers with fair working conditions," the letter read.
In conjunction, the nurses filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board in Albany to request a secret ballot election due to Giulianelli's rejection.
Jerri Cortese, St. Mary's director of community relations, explained why the hospital made its decision.
"Federal Labor Law establishes a process by which employees get to decide whether or not they want to work in a unionized environment, and that process leads to a secret ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board," Cortese said. "Although we acknowledged the union and addressed its representatives, we rejected the request for immediate recognition because it would have denied the nurses the right to vote in a secret ballot election."
Cortese said registered nurses of St. Mary's went into Giulianelli's office Wednesday morning asking to be recognized as a union based on the petition of signatures they had and that would have eliminated them from going through an election process.
"That is our registered nurses' right to organize or not to organize and we believe they have that right to do that in a secret ballot process, which they're entitled to by Federal Labor Law," she said.
Tara Martin, spokeswoman for NYSA, said unionization is important for nurses in the work force because they're "on the front lines of health care."
"Nurses have the primary voice in patient care," Martin said. "So they've seen a lot of changes in the administration of the hospital that could put lives at risk while at the same time creates a lot of concern for the nurses in terms of providing that patient care."
Martin said staffing ratios in many state hospitals have increased from staff to patient and often there aren't enough staff members for all of the patients.
Martin also said the creation of a union would help give nurses an opportunity to have decent and fair wages; she said New York nurses make less than other nurses nationwide.
"Our responsibility is to be able to unionize so that we can bargain in one voice and have a contract that reflects the wages and benefits that nurses so sorely deserve," she said.
Cortese said the hospital was expecting a petition for a union.
"The union didn't do anything wrong; they had the right to come in and ask for recognition without a vote and we had the right to accept or decline," she said. "Their next step is to move on to the National Labor Relations Board, present a petition to the NLRB, and if they accept their petition the NLRB will contact us and set up an election process."
At that point the hospital's nurses will vote on whether they want to unionize.
In the meantime, Martin said St. Mary's nurses are recruiting more signatures from their co-workers for the petition. She said the petition currently has "an overwhelming majority" of signatures at around 100 signatures. Cortese said this morning the state Nurses Association is pursuing the unionization of 250 registered nurses at St. Mary's.
"A lot of these nurses live in these neighborhoods," Martin said. "This isn't about nurses wanting more money, this is about community health care, and nurses are on the front line of that debate.
"This is an opportunity where the community can come together to support nurses," she said.