Holy Cross Hospital, in Maryland, is embroiled in a battle with its nurses over a campaign to unionize the hospital.

The National Nurses United (NNU) started its campaign to unionize nurses at the hospital early last year. During the campaign, some nurses began opposing the union. They held a protest Thursday outside the union headquarters. The union believes the opposition group is a ploy by management that is not reflective of most nurses.

“We don’t believe we need union representation,” Sheila Vicenzi, a nurse at the hospital, told InsideSources. “We think that we’re treated well, the patients are treated well, that we can work with our management, and we don’t have to pay a third-party. It’s taken a long time to get momentum going because people have been afraid of the union.”

Corey Lanham, a collective bargaining director for the union, counters that the union is there to help nurses who are trying to gain a voice at the hospital. He notes hospital management has been allowed to cut wages and benefits in recent years without push back. He also believes that the opposition group reflects only a small portion of nurses.

“Currently registered nurses at the hospital do not have a say in their working conditions, do not have a say in the delivery of patient care, and do not have a say in their wages and benefits,” Lanham told InsideSources. “Our goal is to change that. Our goal is to give the nurses a voice so that they can negotiate a lot of the things I just laid out.”

The NNU national headquarters is close to the hospital where the dispute is unfolding. Some nurses in the opposition group decided to protest outside the union building. Vicenzi says she was happy with how the protest went but believes there are still more nurses who don’t wish to oppose the union publicly.

“I was very pleased with the turnout,” Vicenzi said. “I know a lot of people who wanted to come but couldn’t make it. But I think we drew some attention, especially the attention of the NNU.”

Lanham counters that the protest and opposition campaign is a ploy orchestrated by hospital management. He believes the management is fighting to keep the status quo. He adds the opposition protest was only formed after the union announced they would be protesting outside the hospital Monday.

“The anti-union group of nurses who came to our office to protest the other day was organized by an anti-union firm that the hospital brought in to basically dissuade nurses from joining the union,” Lanham said. “The hospital is paying a union-busting firm to do this. It’s hospital leadership.”

Lanham adds that even the opposition protest outside the union headquarters was small. He believes it’s all part of a plan the hospital has been engaging in to intimidate and coerce the nurses. Vicenzi hopes more nurses will be encouraged to oppose the union once they see that they’re not alone.

“I have received quite a few emails from staff members who feel intimidated and bullied and alone and want to contribute in making this stop, making it go away,” Vicenzi said. “But a lot of these people want to remain anonymous.”

Vicenzi is ultimately concerned that having a union will impede patient care. She notes the unionization campaign has already created tension in the workplace and impacted her job. She fears the problem will only get worse if the union is able to establish itself at the hospital.

“In my unit, we have a few people that are very pro-union,” Vicenzi said. “People have been in my face telling me why the union would be better, and what I need to do if I want to prove my point. I have to do this, this, and this. Despite me saying I’m working right now, you got to stop. They’re pretty persistent.”

Lucy McDonald, a nurse at the hospital, decided to join the opposition group because she saw firsthand what unions do to hospitals. She believes the hospital dynamic will change, and pro-union nurses will treat other nurses differently. She argues the nurses should be working as a team, and doing what’s best for the patients.

“Even now we feel the tension between nurses who want it and don’t,” McDonald told InsideSources. “There’s been emails back and forth. The pro-union nurses are very hostile and mean in their response to us just saying the facts of what we learned when we worked in a union hospital.”

Lanham argues the union hopes to improve patient care by empowering the nurses that treat them. He says that giving nurses a voice, and holding management accountable will ultimately improve how patients are treated. 

“What’s happening currently is impeding patient care,” Lanham said. “Our goal is to improve patient care, and we think when nurses have a say in the delivery of patient care, when nurses have a say in their working conditions, patient care ultimately improves.”

Vicenzi argues the relationship nurses have with management is already strong. She is also concerned the nurses opposed to the union will still be forced to fund it simply because her state doesn’t have right-to-work protections. McDonald adds those dues often go to politicians and causes many nurses might not support.

“The dues are quite high,” McDonald said. “And they will use that money to give to politicians and organizations we don’t agree with and we don’t feel it will help any bargaining. We already have a relationship with our management.”

Holy Cross Hospital states that it respects that its employees have a right to seek out third party organizations. The hospital, however, did express concern that an outside organize may disrupt the collaborative and open culture at the hospital. It notes staff and management already communicate in a direct way.

“It is our belief that continuing this regular, direct engagement is absolutely critical to consistently delivering high-quality care to our patients, as well as creating a rewarding place to work,” Holy Cross Health spokeswoman Yolanda Gaskins told InsideSources. “We respect our employees’ rights to explore associations with third party organizations. However, we also have significant concerns that the involvement of any third party organization in our workplace could disrupt the open and collaborative workplace we have long worked to maintain.”

Vicenzi believes the union doesn’t have as much support as they claim. The union still hasn’t called for a vote despite the campaign starting almost a year ago. She believes the union is stalling simply because they know they don’t have enough support.

“It kind of surprises me that they haven’t brought it to a vote at this point, so maybe they don’t think they have enough people that they think will vote in their favor,” Vicenzi said. “It would certainly bring relief to the nurses of the hospital to move on from this–to not have this hanging over our heads.”

Lanham counters that the campaign is going strong, but that the union wants to make sure they have overwhelming support. A union only has to get 30 percent of workers in a bargaining unit to sign cards before they can initiate a vote. The NNU has set a goal to reach a super-majority of 60 percent.

“The requirements here to call for an election is you have to have 30 percent of the bargaining unit,” Lanham said. “We’re looking to file for an election once we reach a super-majority. We think it’s doable, and we are steadily getting closer to our goal.”

A union must get the majority of workers to vote in its favor once a workplace election in initiated. NNU being able to get 60 percent of nurses to sign cards would be a good sign. The opposition group believes most nurses are silently opposed to the union, and doubts it will be able to reach that goal.

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