National Nurses United scores landslide win in North Carolina
Asheville, NC HCA nurses vote ‘Yes’ to unionize in Landslide Vote by 70% for National Nurses United | NNU

ASHEVILLE, N.C.—Call it the Carolina breakthrough. In the largest hospital union win in the deeply anti-union South since 1975, National Nurses United won a 965-411 landslide union recognition vote among registered nurses at the Mission Hospital complex in Asheville, N.C., the biggest city in the state’s western area.

NNU believes its win will lead to other victories in the Tar Heel State, the second-least-unionized in the U.S. NNU will represent 1,800 registered nurses at Mission’s two hospitals.

In comparison, federal Labor Department survey data show only 102,000 unionists were in the entire state last year or 2.3% of North Carolina’s workforce. Only South Carolina, run by rabid right-wingers in the governorship and the legislature, is less densely unionized.

Patient care, or lack of it, was a big factor in the win, NNU said. That’s because it drastically declined after the for-profit Hospital Corporation of America took over the formerly locally owned hospitals in early 2019. “Patients before profits” has been a big cause for NNU, the nation’s top union for registered nurses.

NNU said it won despite “a regulatory climate hostile to unions and workers’ rights passed down by corporate interests and the” Republican “Trump administration. The nurses also faced the added challenge of conducting a huge union organizing campaign in the midst of the most dangerous pandemic in a century.”

“We could not be more proud of the unity, the perseverance, and the patient advocacy and dedication of the Mission RNs to their patients, their colleagues, and their community,” NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN, said in a statement. “At a time when nurses are in a daily battle with the deadly fight for their patients and their own lives in the era of COVID-19 [the coronavirus], they demonstrated incomparable courage and resilience that is an inspiration to all of us.”

Emphasizing improving patient care was a key to the win, as it produced wide local clergy and political support, RNs told NNU. RN Sue Fischer said staffing, nurse-to-patient ratios, and up-to-date machinery all slid downhill after HCA took over. Nurses noticed.

“The nurse-to-patient ratios started to get much worse, equipment was replaced with cheaper versions, and certified nurse assistants, housekeepers, security, and phlebotomists, along with many other staff were let go in unprecedented levels,” she explained.

Safe staffing and dismantling corporate control of health care are two key NNU causes nationwide. The union pushed through safe-staffing laws in California and elsewhere, over rabid insurer and hospital opposition. And NNU is labor’s top advocate of Medicare For All. That would establish government-run single-payer health care, trashing the insurers, their profit motives, denial of care, and high premiums and deductibles.

“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,” palliative care RN Kelly Graham told the union. “We have been blessed with so much support from our Asheville neighbors, who understand our working conditions have an enormous impact on public health.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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