Saint Vincent Hospital nurses begin voting on union decertification

In the wake of a 10-month strike, nurses at Worcester, Mass.-based Saint Vincent Hospital are voting on whether to decertify the Massachusetts Nurses Association at the hospital, according to WBUR

The voting began after C. Richard Avola, who was hired as a permanent replacement nurse at the hospital during the walkout, filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to vote for the union to be decertified.

Mr. Avola told WBUR that he is leading the effort because staffing levels at Saint Vincent were "no different than any other hospital that I had worked at, and I didn't see why it was being targeted" during the strike.

He also argued to the publication that there is division among longtime union members and replacement nurses hired during the strike, and "we need to remove the subject that was the controller of the relationship between the hospital and the nurses."

The walkout began March 8, 2021, and a sticking point was the union's demand for striking nurses to return to work in their previous roles. Under a four-year agreement approved by union members Jan. 4, striking nurses can resume their previous positions, and replacement nurses hired during the strike can keep their roles, too. 

Now, if nurses vote to decertify the union at the hospital, "there is no guarantee or legal protection to ensure the nurses can keep the wages, benefits and staffing levels they just achieved," the Massachusetts Nurses Association said in a statement shared with Becker's.

"Without a union nurses become 'at-will employees' subject to termination for any reason other than the limited protections of federal law, and there is no obligation by the employer to honor any of the terms of the agreement, nor would the nurses have any legal means to stop … their employer from changing those terms at any given time now or in the future," the union said. 

In a previous statement shared with Becker's, Saint Vincent Hospital, owned by Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, said the hospital "respects the legal right of its nurses to choose whether or not they wish to be represented by a union."  

The National Labor Relations Board sent out ballots to eligible union members Feb. 4, and all ballots are due back Feb. 25. The votes will be tallied Feb. 28, the union said.

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