By TIM ROWDEN
National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United, which represents SLU Hospital nurses, are calling out SSM Health Saint Louis University (SLU) Hospital for bargaining in bad faith and encouraging nurses to decertify their union.
And in an unprecedented anti-union tactic, SSM has taken one of the nurses’ key bargaining demands – paid family leave – and instituted it at all their non-union hospitals but not SLU hospital, with the offer to do so there IF the nurses decertify their union.
Nurses at SLU Hospital organized in 2012, when Tenet Healthcare Corp. owned the hospital. They had one contract under Tenet and have had one under SSM. The SSM contract expired in June.
Among the Nurses demands, in addition to paid family leave, are safe staffing levels, workplace violence prevention and competitive pay.
Jenn Dean, organizer for National Nurses United, told St. Louis Labor Council delegates last week SSM has proposed eliminating the closed shop at SLU, imposing “right-to-work” conditions on the nurses there.
“Even though Missouri just voted down ‘right-to-work,’ they think we should be a ‘right-to-work’ shop,” Dean said. “They’ve been actively promoting encouraging nurses to drop their dues and drop their membership while we’re out of contract.
“They also have been covertly, but pretty obviously, encouraging a decertification campaign,” she said. “It’s being primarily asked to anti-union nurses but there are nurses who have been promoted to management who are still asking nurses to sign the petition. And they’re promoting it in a lot of other ways. They’re being very aggressive.”
FIGHTING TO MAINTAIN
“We are fighting really hard to maintain what Missouri voters said and what the majority of us want at SLU Hospital, and that is a closed shop,” said Kellie Allen, a Registered Nurse at SLU who serves on the contract bargaining team.
“Nobody should get something for nothing. We worked really hard and we want to support our community. Our union formed specifically because we want to give safe patient care.”
NO PAID LEAVE FOR UNION NURSES
“One of our priorities in this bargaining session was to try to win paid family leave,” Dean said. They rejected our proposal at the table to pay family leave, but then announced that they’ve given paid family leave to all of their non-union hospitals and that our nurses will get this if they vote out the union.”
Nurses say SLU is understaffed for the volume of patients it receives, putting patients’ health at risk.
“A lot of our issues at the table are in regard to staffing, making sure that we have enough nurses to provide care to the level of patients we have,” Dean said.
“There are various studies that show that when you provide that adequate level of staffing that it’s linked to decreased patient deaths, deceased infection rates and it ultimately improves patient care. SLU is woefully understaffed on a regular basis.
“They claim that this is due to an overall shortage of nurses in the St. Louis area, but part of that is we don’t have good union nursing jobs. St. Louis is far behind the national average in terms of nursing pay, even when adjusted for the cost-of-living.
FRAYING THE SAFETY NET
SLU is a safety net hospital in St. Louis, taking in a disproportionate number of uninsured and Medicare patients, Dean said.
“They deserve the same level of care that someone who has good insurance and can go to Barnes or a hospital in West County can get,” Dean said. “This is also an economic and equity and racial justice issue for our patients.”