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A Mail-In Vote Taking Place Right Now: Mission Health Nurses Decide Whether To Unionize

Matt Bush
Blue Ridge Public Radio
A sign supporting the union vote in Asheville

Nurses at Mission Health's hospital in Asheville are currently voting on whether to join a union, National Nurses United.

Ballots were mailed to the roughly 16-hundred nurses at the Asheville hospital and the adjacent St. Joseph's campus on August 18th, and are due back to the National Labor Relations Board's regional office in Winston-Salem by September 15th.  If a simple majority votes yes, even by one vote, the nurses will be in the union.  

Reporter Brian Gordon of the Asheville Citizen-Times and the USA Today network in North Carolina says the push for unionization came shortly after the sale of non-profit Mission Health to for-profit HCA Healthcare.  At six public forums that took place across Western North Carolina in January and February of this year, patients, staff, and concerned residents voiced complaints about staffing changes they say HCA implemented that had adverse affects on care.  That included nursing staff levels, a major driver of the union vote.  North Carolina ranks 49 out of 50 states when it comes to the rate of unionized workers says Gordon, ahead of only neighboring South Carolina.  You can hear Gordon's full interview with BPR's Matt Bush about the vote above.

Mission Health spokeswoman Nancy Lindell offered the statement about the union vote -

We are pleased that our registered nurses now have the opportunity to vote on this important decision.  Over the course of the past five months, we have seen NNU bring unnecessary conflict and divisiveness to our hospital. We believe quality care is best served when our patient care team works collaboratively together.  With that said, we respect and will protect the right of nurses to determine for themselves whether or not they want union representation, and will encourage all to take part in the election

Last week, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden made his own statement about the vote -

Congratulations to the registered nurses at HCA’s Mission Hospital on their ongoing campaign to form a union and join National Nurses United. I’ve said it before, and I mean it: if there are angels in heaven, they’re nurses. We owe an immense debt of gratitude to these heroes, who get up and fight on the front lines of this pandemic each and every day with humility and compassion. They put their lives on the line when they clock in, and that’s enough to bear without the threat of unsafe conditions — exacerbated by the Trump Administration’s failure to take steps needed to keep workers safe. I’m proud to stand by the Mission RNs in their collective bid for a better, safer, and more equitable workplace — an impressive show of solidarity not just for themselves, but for the health of their entire community.

Union Files Complaint Against HCA

The National Nurses United(NNU) filed a complaint with OSHA – the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration - against 17 HCA hospitals across the country last week. The complaint included details alleging that Mission Hospital in Asheville has not been providing appropriate PPE or notifying nurses of potential exposure to COVID-19. Fines for "willful violations" causing workplace safety hazards could amount to $134,937 per facility, or $2.3 million if applied to all named hospitals, according to the NNU.

Mission Health says that they have a masking protocol based on the risks with each individual patients and that they are following CDC testing guidelines.

“Since the onset of this pandemic, our focus has been to protect our colleagues so they can best care for our patients.  Our caregivers have shown unwavering commitment, and our efforts to protect them have included screening and testing, universal masking, contact tracing and notification, and other safeguards, in line with guidance from the CDC. We’re proud of our response and the significant resources we’ve deployed to help protect our colleagues. Meanwhile, the NNU has chosen to use this pandemic as an opportunity to gain publicity by attacking hospitals across the country,” said Mission Health spokesperson Nancy Lindell last Wednesday in an email.

CDC testing guidelines were updated this week to say that asymptomatic people who had been exposed to COVID-19 did not need to be tested and then softened late Wednesday night.

Matt Bush joined Blue Ridge Public Radio as news director in August 2016. Excited at the opportunity the build up the news service for both stations as well as help launch BPR News, Matt made the jump to Western North Carolina from Washington D.C. For the 8 years prior to coming to Asheville, he worked at the NPR member station in the nation's capital as a reporter and anchor. Matt primarily covered the state of Maryland, including 6 years of covering the statehouse in Annapolis. Prior to that, he worked at WMAL in Washington and Metro Networks in Pittsburgh, the city he was born and raised in.
Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.