None of Arizona's private-sector hospital employees are represented by unions, and for now it will stay that way. Last month, nurses at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix rejected an opportunity to join the fast-growing California Nurses Association, thwarting the CNA's first attempt to unionize nurses outside California.
St. Joseph's nurses voted 385-327 against joining the union after a campaign in which the CNA claimed workers were illegally intimidated. St. Joseph's is owned by Catholic Healthcare West, a 48-hospital system based in San Francisco.
Although the CNA continues to bring in new hospitals and nurses-it has won 11 elections at California hospitals this year and doubled its membership during the past five years-the union could have a tough time garnering support in other states.
"Employees here generally prefer to deal directly with their employer rather than through intermediaries," said John Rivers, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association in Phoenix.
"The vote was what I expected," said Linda Hunt, president and chief administrative officer of 570-bed St. Joseph's, a level-one trauma center in the heart of Phoenix. "I was very pleased."
Nationally, few if any state unions have made similar attempts to represent healthcare workers outside their geographic area, said union officials, some of whom were skeptical about how successful such efforts would be.
"Nurses and other healthcare workers looking to build strength in an industry like healthcare need a union with the size and membership and resources the SEIU has," said Lisa Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 110,000 nurses across the country.
When state unions such as the CNA attempt to recruit members from other states, "it's difficult to see how that advances the interests of nurses in California or substantially improves the position of nurses outside California," Hubbard said.
The CNA, which represents nearly 40,000 nurses in California, said the election at St. Joseph's was a close one that may have turned on an "aggressive anti-union campaign from hospital management." But Hunt said administrators used no inappropriate tactics to sway nurses from joining the union. The CNA did not file charges against the hospital.
"We are talking to nurses in other states, but I can't say definitely that there are other elections imminent in other states," said Charles Idelson, a spokesman for the Oakland-based CNA.
Earlier this month, nurses at 691-bed Long Beach (Calif.) Memorial Medical Center voted 630-523 to join the CNA, bringing union representation to more than 1,300 registered nurses at one of Los Angeles' largest hospitals.