Nurses at Mission Hospital and its adjacent facilities in Asheville have voted to join a union, National Nurses United, by a more than 2-to-1 margin.
The vote was tallied early Thursday morning by the National Labor Relations Board, and roughly 70% of the votes (965 to 411) supported joining the union. NNU says this is the first union victory in the American South in 12 years, and the largest at a hospital in the South since 1975. It comes in a state that has the second-lowest rate of unionized workers in the country. North Carolina only tops neighboring South Carolina.
“We’re all thrilled that we’ve finally won,” said Lesley Bruce in a statement put out by the union. The registered nurse works in chest pain observation at Mission. “This victory means we can use our collective voice to advocate for patient safety and safer staffing. I can’t wait to see what improvement we’ll win together.”
“Throughout the entire campaign, we’ve been acutely aware that this fight isn’t just for us and our working conditions--this is about the health and well-being of our community,” said Kelly Graham, palliative care RN, in a statement. “We have been blessed with so much support from our Asheville neighbors, who understand that our working conditions have an enormous impact on public health.”
The union vote came after the sale of previously non-profit Mission Health to for-profit HCA last year. At several community meetings earlier this year before the COVID-19 pandemic, the independent monitor hired to ensure HCA follows through on agreements it made with the state attorney general's office heard complaints from patients and nurses about reduced staffing levels they felt endangered care.
"We are grateful for our nursing team and their dedication to quality patient care throughout this challenging time for our nation and world. As divisive as this election has been over the last few months, we respect the right of nurses to decide for themselves whether or not they supported NNU", said Nancy Lindell, spokesperson for Mission Health/HCA Healthcare North Carolina Division in a statement. "In the coming days, the hospital will thoroughly examine the election process and the manner in which the election was conducted. The NLRB’s process allows both parties time to review the election and the conduct of the parties prior to the election; the hospital may utilize that process to ensure that all of our nurses had the fair election that they deserve. We value our nurses and the exceptional care they provide. We will continue to focus on our mission to care for the communities of Western North Carolina."
Reporter Brian Gordon of the USA Today Network in North Carolina says it usually takes about three years for the first contract to be negotiated after unionization, though he notes National Nurses United has moved more quickly than others. Gordon told BPR's Matt Bush with North Carolina being a 'right-to-work' state, all Mission Health nurses in Asheville will be covered by the union contract, but don't necessarily have to pay dues to the union. You can hear a full interview with Gordon above.