Nurses at St. Louis University Hospital vote to unionize

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St. Louis – In a week that saw disappointment in Wisconsin, where unions failed to recall Gov. Scott Walker, nurses at St. Louis University (SLU) Hospital voted overwhelmingly to certify National Nurses United to represent them in contract negotiations with Tenet Health Care Corp.

The secret ballot election was conducted by the National Labor Relations Board.

Nurses voted by a three-to-one margin to join the National Nurses Organizing Committee-Missouri (NNOC-Missouri), an affiliate of the National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union and professional association of RNs in the U.S

Of the 575 SLU Hospital nurses eligible to vote, about 70 percent cast ballots, with 305 nurses voting yes, and 99 nurses voting no.

Lesa Dustman, a nurse in the hospital’s intensive care unit, said union affiliation will help the staff negotiate for improved patient care, salaries and benefits.

Dustman said patient care was among the top 10 issues identified by nurses in a survey leading up to the election.

“We don’t have enough staff to adequately take care of our patients safely,” Dustman said. “We need more nurses and techs to adequately be able to take care of our patients they way they should be taken care of, and that is our main goal.”

NNU is an AFL-CIO affiliate and currently represents about 175,000 nurses across the country, Corey Lanham, lead organizer for the Midwest said.

NNU affiliates currently represent approximately 4,000 RNs in nine Tenet hospitals in Florida, Texas, and California.

Organizing nurses has been a challenge in the St. Louis region. Nurses at Mercy Hospital St. Louis in Creve Coeur voted to decertify their union affiliation in 2007.

But organizing efforts by the NNU appear to be gaining steam.

Nurses at Des Peres Hospital, which is also owned by Tenet, have collected enough authorization cards to call an authorization vote there on June 22.

“This is our first attempt to organize in St. Louis,” Lanham said. “Given the opportunity, I think nurses will organize if they’re not impeded by union busting.”

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