(Continued from p. 27)long, long decisions by the board" without getting results. So, McDonald said, "they're having fewer elections, but they seem to be winning the large majority of the ones they're having." In the 1994 NLRB term, unions won about 75% of hospital elections, an all-time high, McDonald said. "The highest I've ever seen is 54%."
One that nurses didn't win took place last September at Brawner South Hospital, a 50-bed psychiatric facility south of Atlanta. "That was the first attempt that has actually gone through the process of an election in Georgia for at least 10 or more years," said Mary Mallison, executive director of the Georgia Nurses Association. Nurses at several big Atlanta-area hospitals are interested in organizing but aren't ready to go public yet, she said.
"Nurses who've never used a grievance procedure before are asking about them. Nurses who never had to think about being disciplined or terminated are calling us," Mallison said.
In Georgia, a right-to-work state, employers have made a point of maintaining attractive working conditions to keep workers happy and stave off union interest, she added.
"In this economy, with such a short-term focus and the chaos in healthcare, some of the hospital administrators have lost sight of the fact that the way you stop unions is by being an enlightened manager," Mallison said.
Nurses' "major fear," Mallison maintained, "is that patient care will be ruined by people trying to apply a manufacturing model to a clinical model. You cannot turn that patient into a predictable assembly-line creature."
Sharon Penrod, a nurse who is trying to organize Christian Hospital Northwest in suburban St. Louis, argues that patient care, not financial issues, motivates nurses. "I don't think I've heard anybody in any of our meetings say anything about money. It's all about safety and patient care.
"I work in the operating room. We're working harder. They're pushing us constantly. It feels like we're working an assembly line.
"So I decided to do a little research. In the last five years we had doubled the amount of cases we were doing and we had the same amount of staff," Penrod said. Lower-skilled workers had been substituted for three registered nurses. "It's become dangerous."
Christian Hospital opposes Penrod's efforts. "We don't think it's in the best interests of the employees, the patients or the hospital for a third party to be involved," spokesman Mark Johnson said. Staffing levels change based on the census. "Reductions are being levied in those areas, but it's really sort of a re-engineering," he said.
A collaborative approach.But some
hospitals are finding a way to accommodate labor and meet their own needs at the same time.
Last fall the New York League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes negotiated an early settlement with Local 1199 of the National Health and Human Services Employees Union. The new contract assures that full-time employees with more than two years of tenure will not be laid off in the next four years. Other employees may lose their jobs, but they will be eligible for retraining and health insurance. Some laid-off employees could get jobs at other hospitals covered by the contract.
K. Bruce Stickler, a Chicago labor