A couple of weeks ago Denver Health’s board of directors made an unprecedented news release that they were denying nurses the right to form a union within their facility. They justified this statement by saying a union is not needed in their facility because their nurses receive pay, benefits, and a lower acuity assignments that are above average without the need for a union.
The shock of this decision rippled through out Denver as nurses rebuffed the notion that the unionization was about money and benefits. The issue is not about an increase in pay and benefits but an issue of patient safety. The nursing shortage has still not been addressed, although a lot of news coverage has brought the problems to the grassroots level. Nurses want to make sure that their patients are safe and are not being cared for by nurses who are physically and emotionally exhausted. The issue still remains one of acuity levels. Nurses want lower ratios and they want administration to acknowledge that the current patient to nurse ratios do not comply with standards of care.
In response to this outrageous decision, nurses at the Denver Health facility are filing a harassment lawsuit against the facility. One nurse was heard saying, we have a right to unionize if we so chose and threatening to suppress our freedom of speech and right to choose is un-American. One of the board members was quoted as saying, "nursing is the only area of Denver Health being spared from layoffs."
Of course nursing is being spared from layoffs. There is a nursing shortage and not enough to cover the current shift needs. Was he threatening the nurses with layoffs or is this guy just not getting it? At one point it was said that if a union is formed, then the patient load will go back up. Sounds pretty inflammatory to me. Lastly, a representative from the Denver Health facility said she feared that a union would jeopardize the team foundation among doctors, nurses, and other ancillary health care workers. How will a union jeopardize the team? Teachers have a union; does it jeopardize the team foundation among the clerical, janitorial, and other support staff?
It is unfortunate that Denver Health is in a health care crisis right now and are laying off approximately 122 and furloughing another 1,200-plus. I do not see how alienating the nursing staff is going to help matters. Historically, nurses have always been asked to help out in the pinch. Nurses have picked up additional work such as billing, inventory control, housekeeping, transportation and other non-nursing functions. And we have done so in a professional way. To insinuate that nurses are not being professional because they wish to have a union is at best, insulting.
About 12 years ago I tried to get a union started at another hospital in Denver. I was called into the Director of Nursing office and was pretty much told to either stop or find myself without a job. Being a new nurse and still on probation, I backed down. To this day I regret that decision. No one has the right to take away our freedom of speech, our freedom to express ourselves, and threaten us into submission. Frankly, I do not understand what all the fear is surrounding the word union. There are many states that have very successful nurse’s unions.
It is my humble opinion that we need more unions in this country rather than less. We live in a society of very little respect or gratitude for work done. There no longer is any kind of employer loyalty: people are getting laid-off weeks before retirement or being forced to take an early retirement. Older employees are being let go for the younger entry-level employee. Companies are downsizing, reducing benefits, increasing work-loads, and there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight.
What is your opinion about unionization? Are you for it or against it? Share your thoughts with us. We want you to be In The News.
Linda Rener, MPH, MSN, RN, NDc is the Director of Health Career Programs at Red Rocks Community College and the author of, Memories of my sister: Dealing with sudden death.