Two unions that won elections at two El Paso hospitals in 2010 are now trying to get nurses and other workers from Providence Memorial Hospital and Sierra Medical Center to join them.
The National Nurses Organizing Committee-Texas, a part of National Nurses United, has a union election scheduled at Sierra today, and is to hold an election at Providence Oct 16.
It represents registered nurses, of which Sierra and Providence have about 800, a union spokesman reported.
The Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, has a union election scheduled at Providence today, and also is organizing workers at Sierra.
SEIU represents licensed vocational nurses, nurses aides, janitors, and other support staff.
The unions won elections at Las Palmas and Del Sol medical centers in 2010, among only a handful of hospitals to be unionized so far in Texas. Nurses at one of those hospitals, HCA Inc.-owned Rio Grande Regional Hospital in McAllen, voted in July to remove the union.
The unions gained entry into Texas through agreements made with HCA, which owns Las Palmas and Del Sol, and Tenet Healthcare Corp., which owns Providence and Sierra. The agreements allow the unions to organize at select hospitals.
Tenet also owns Sierra Providence East Medical Center, where no union organizing is being done now.
The nurses union and the HCA hospitals in El Paso didn't reach an agreement on a contract until last month -- more than two years after the union elections were held.
Perry Pielaet, 62, a registered nurse at Providence for 24 years, said he doesn't see the new union contract delivering wages or benefits better than what he and other nurses already have. In addition, union employees must pay union dues, ne noted.
That's why Pielaet has been trying to talk to nurses at Providence about the cons of joining a union, he said. But, he said, until late last week he was barred by Providence management from reserving meeting rooms at Providence to spread his anti-union message.
Late last month, he filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, stating he was barred from spreading his message as union representatives were handing out their pro-union messages at the hospital.
Pielaet said he continues to pursue his complaint, with the help of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in the Washington, D.C., area, even though Providence posted a notice Saturday giving anti-union employees access to meeting rooms and said it will not interfere with employees' rights to join or not join a union.
Pielaet was able to book a meeting room this week, almost a month after the union started its organizing efforts, he noted. He's hoping his complaint will force a delay in the Providence election so he has more time to get his message out.
Another Providence nurse, Sharon Davidson, also filed a similar complaint with the federal labor board last week.
The only comment on the union organizing issues by Sierra Providence Health Network, which runs the hospitals, was a written statement stating that management prefers to work with employees without a union.
"However, we agree that the question of whether employees should be represented by a union is a question that employees should answer for themselves through a secret ballot election," the Sierra Providence statement added.
Helen Robert, 59, a registered nurse at Sierra for the past seven years and 32 years at Providence, said she's involved with union organizing at Sierra because she thinks union representation will help deliver better health care. Better nurse-patient ratios are needed, she said.
"The primary issue at stake is safe patient care. Sierra is an excellent hospital," but the union's collective voice for the nurses would help improve patient care, she said. A nurse at Las Palmas said she's seen improvements in nurse staffing since the hospital was unionized, Robert said.
Pielaet, the anti-union nurse at Providence, said, "You can't negotiate nurse staffing ratios. We already have (hospital) committees to do that. e I don't see problems with (nurse-patient) ratios."
Charles Idelson, a spokesman for National Nurses United in California, said the union's goal is to eventually represent every nurse in the nation. It now has about 185,000 members nationally, he said.
"Some groups believe working people shouldn't have representation," Idelson said.
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