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MA Nurses Take Their First Steps Toward Unionization After Devastating Year

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More nurses are taking to the streets to show their support for labor unions as the coronavirus continues to upend the status quo at hospitals all over the country. The nurses at Milford Regional Medical Center in Milford, MA are organizing to join the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) after watching the facility mismanage its response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Nurses across the hospital are finally speaking up about their experiences on the floor and why they believe joining the union will benefit patients and staff.

Marching for Respect

It was a brisk Monday morning in Milford when a group of nurses staged a march from the local Portuguese club to hospital’s administration officers to announce their intention to join the Massachusetts Nurses Union. When they arrived, the nurses delivered their filings with the National Labor Relations Board to the hospital CEO Edward Kelly. According to his secretary, Kelly could not come out and meet with the nurses.

Several providers were on hand to discuss the problems they’ve been facing on the floor and why they decided to march.

“A lot of the issues are communication,” ICU nurse Mike Brown said. “We should all have a voice in how we are going to defeat this virus.”

Joe Markman, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said around 70% of the hospital’s 550 nurses have already signed onto the idea.

According to Sara Burton, who’s been treating patients in the main COVID-19 ward, “We really felt some of these issues were already existing. The pandemic has really brought everything into sharp relief.”

The providers say their decision isn’t so much about money as it is about respect and communication, especially as their community deals with the latest crisis. Some want more input with hospital leaders, while others are worried for their health and those of their patients.

Registered nurse Lynn Valencia was working on the oncology floor of the hospital before it turned into another ward for COVID-19 patients. “It was never about money,” she said. “It was more about respect and being valued as a profession.”

“We have the most intelligent, strong, passionate nurses…nobody’s giving them an opportunity,” Valencia added. Referring to their decision to unionize, she added, “The hospital will be a better place because of it.”

Listing Their Concerns

The nurses at Milford Regional Hospital say they’ve been worried about their health since the start of the pandemic. They accuse administrators of withholding information when it should’ve been made available to staff.

Sara Burton said, “We have more patients now than we did for the first surge,” which has put a strain on providers. According to staff, administrators waited two whole days to tell the team that someone on the crew had tested positive for COVID-19, fueling speculation and anxiety among providers.

“We feel really afraid and in danger,” Burton said.

The nurses also fault the hospital for not doing more to prepare for the second wave of the virus. “We haven’t been ready for it,” Burton said. “It felt like a very disorganized response.”

While most nurses say they feel like they have access to enough PPE, the administrators withhold information, so they never know for sure.

Another problem, staff say, is that there have been 40 unfilled positions since July, which has only worsened the nursing shortage, forcing nurses to work overtime.

“It would have been incredibly beneficial if we had incentivized people to come work in Milford,” Brown said. While his workweek is back to normal, he’s still worried about those who have to fill in the gaps.

Two state representatives, Jeff Roy, D-Franklin, and Brian Murray, D- Milford, sent out a joint statement showing their support for the nurses:

“These nurses are our friends and neighbors who have been putting their lives on the line for us every day. We support their efforts to advocate for changes needed to protect their patients and all of us, not only during this pandemic, but in all aspects of our health care safety net. We trust that this advocacy will strengthen the process needed for workplace and patient safety and ensure a healthy future for our region.”

According to the MNA union spokesman, the National Labor Relations Board will set a date for the election, so the nurses can vote on whether they want to join the union. The announcement is expected within a few days after. 

Assuming the 550 nurses become members of the MNA, they will have more bargaining power as they negotiate a contract with hospital administrators.

These brave providers are spending the holidays organizing their colleagues and standing up for their rights in the workplace. We wish them well during this difficult time.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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