Registered nurses at Deaconess Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., have voted to join a union.
Thursday's vote was 318-194 in favor of joining the Service Employees International Union, which also represents medical technicians at Deaconess and nurses and technicians at sister unit Valley Hospital and Medical Center.
"There's no myths that there's some great financial reward waiting for us now that we're union," said nurse Joan Palm. "We're going to help rebuild the foundation here."
There are 657 registered nurses at Deaconess, Spokane's second-largest hospital after Sacred Heart Medical Center, where nurses long have been unionized.
Like most hospitals, Deaconess is struggling. In 2002, the hospital lost about $19 million. Administrators made deep cuts in the spring of 2003, including a 9% wage reduction for all employees from the CEO on down.
Yet the hospital's troubles continue. Deaconess, Spokane's second largest private-sector employer, and Valley, operated by Empire Health Services, lost $7.2 million from October through March.
Administrators blame charity write-offs, poor federal and state reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid and higher numbers of uninsured patients for hurting the bottom line.
The union vote reverses the nurses' close rejection of organized labor last year.
Thursday's voting was ordered in May after a National Labor Relations Board appeals panel affirmed an earlier ruling that hospital officials interfered with last year's vote by implying that a vote for the union could make big wage cuts permanent.
In a news release, hospital spokeswoman Janice Marich said: "The administration of Deaconess is committed to providing quality care to all of our patients. We will continue to work with our nurses and collaborate with their chosen representative to improve processes and help put our hospital back on track."
Health care is Spokane's leading economic driver, accounting for one in five jobs, according to a recent study prepared by David Bunting and Patrick Jones of Eastern Washington University.