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Home / Articles / News / News Articles /  News | The Union Label: A SLC hospital fires three veteran nurses after their six-year fight to organize
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News | The Union Label: A SLC hospital fires three veteran nurses after their six-year fight to organize

By Holly Mullen
Posted // January 23,2008 - Earlier this month intensive care nurse Lori Gay took a lunch break, as she often does, in a small room 30 feet from her nurses’ station at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center (SLMRC). But, on this day, along with two other nurses who joined her, it turned out to be her undoing.

The following day, on Jan. 11, a hospital administrator told the three women they had jeopardized patient safety by leaving their station and fired them.

“It was flabbergasting,” says Gay, 48. “In our unit, we’ve always divvied up the lunch breaks. It’s been a practice that a few will go and some will stay behind, then that group will go. But we were told we had neglected our patients. We were right across the hall. But that was the end.”

It happens the women were fired the same week news came that a six-year effort to organize a nurse’s union at SLRMC had crumbled. Gay and her two ICU colleagues, Shauna Mann and Dianne Player, both 58, had been key players in the organizing work.

“It’s not a coincidence that we lost our jobs. I’m mad as hell,” Mann says. “This has implications for all nurses. If our jobs aren’t safe when we’re at lunch across the hall, then who is safe? On top of everything else, [the hospital] is trying to sully our reputations.”

The nurses say hospital managers have threatened to report them to state licensing officials, alleging their failure in protecting patients, thus compounding their punishment and making them unemployable elsewhere.

“It’s called ‘retribution,’” Player says.

Iasis Healthcare, the hospital’s Tennessee-based parent company, does not comment on employee matters, says spokesman Doug Boudreaux. “Their termination was a result of their failure to comply with company policies and procedures.”

Boudreaux adds, however, “Utah is a free-to-work state, and we have the right to hire and fire as we choose.”

The genesis of this story stretches back to September 2001, when Gay, Player and Mann met in Salt Lake City with an organizer for the United American Nurses union. They say problems began shortly after the for-profit Iasis acquired the non-profit Holy Cross Hospital in 1994. The nurses wanted more say in patient-care decisions, in staffing levels and benefits. It was never about salary, the women say.

The SLMRC nurses voted on whether to be represented by the United American Nurses Union in June 2002. Almost immediately after, SLMRC managers changed their job descriptions. Typically, each nurse on a floor takes a turn two or three times a month as a “charge nurse.” The job amounts to routing patients and assigning beds.

Being labeled “charge nurses” is an important distinction. Hospital officials decided to treat them as managers, prohibiting them from union membership. And, for the next six years, the issue bounced back and forth among the nurses, the hospital and the National Labor Relations Board.

Essentially, the NLRB had to decide whether “charge” meant “manage.” The nurses argued they had no power as charge nurses to schedule, discipline or hire and fire fellow nurses. So they should not be considered management.

Through years of legal squabbles and mounting tensions at the hospital, the ballots cast by the SLMRC nurses have sat uncounted. Gay notes that, of the 153 votes cast, “68 percent of the nurses had been considered charge nurses so, under the law, their votes became ineligible.”

Late last year, the NLRB rendered the “Oakwood Decision,” a similar case from a chain of long-term care facilities. The board ruled that companies could, indeed, consider charge nurses supervisors.

Days before Gay, Player and Mann were fired, United American Nurses withdrew its petition for the union at SLRMC. “In the current political atmosphere, which is quite unsympathetic to labor, we thought it best to withdraw [the petition],” says union spokeswoman Suzanne Martin.

There are approximately 2.4 million registered nurses in the United States, according to the U.S. Labor Bureau. Eighteen percent of them are union members, Martin says.

The fired nurses share 81 years of intensive-care nursing experience. Mann has found a couple of part-time nursing positions. All are considering legal action against the hospital. They say other nurses have resigned in solidarity with them; the hospital would not confirm that.

None of the women consider their efforts wasted.

“We tried hard,” says Gay, the granddaughter of a pro-union Carbon County coal miner. “There are so many young nurses afraid to speak up. There are nurses in the ‘float pool’ who have no job security. We did this for all of them, too.”

 

 
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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // January 31,2008 at 06:08 The fact that these nurses were fired coincidentally after union negotiations fell apart due to legal semantics by the corporate company that runs the hospital is unconscionable, however not surprising. I have a 25 yr background in Emergency Medicine, and left the hospital setting, 6 yrs ago because of corporate medicine. Sadly hospitals have become businesses, with little staff support, or patient advocacy. The only truth in the obviously ignorant and uninformed DEAL WITH IT’s statement is that yes, nurses would have leaverage, because really, what would happen to the business of hospitals if there weren’t any nurses. This won’t happen as nurses typically love what they do, and have a giving work ethic. I applaud these three nurses and the ones that quit in solidarity for standing up for what is right. The Nursing profession could benefit from more strong examples like Shauna Mann, Dianne Player and Lori Gay,BRAVO!!

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // January 31,2008 at 04:58 I worked at Holy Cross for many years in the ICU, when the hospital was actually a better place to work than it is now, when nurses were valued and their opinions counted. I feel honored to have worked with two of these nurses during my career. Since I left the hospital, all three of them have cared for my loved ones as patients, and I will be sorry if I admit a family member there again and they won’t be there to care for them. They are all exceptional nurses, and SLRMC is losing some of the finest nurses they could ever hope to have. In Utah it would be a rare thing indeed for any nurses to make $40/hour, and anyone who would write the deal with it comment has obviously no knowledge of what it takes to be on the front lines in an ICU. Since when does working for nearly 40 years for an institution become meaningless?! Yes, the patients always come first, and nurses are lucky if they get the breaks and the compensation they so deserve. When are people going to realize it is the nurses that care for patients and loved ones, who make the difference in health care today, and who make the insitutions they work for better places? I sincerely hope that these nurses band together for legal action and stand firm on principle.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // January 30,2008 at 08:10 I worked for 20+ years in the Emergency Dept at SLRMC (formerly Holy Cross Hospital). It was an honor to work with these 3 nurses, both when I was handing over care to them when patients were admitted to the ICU and also as co-workers when I floated to the ICU on occasion. They were dedicated, knowledgable, compassionate and great to work with. I left SLRMC after Iasis became the owner as the philosophy of medical care changed greatly from what it had been under the Sisters. I would welcome the opportunitiy to work with Shauna, Lori and Diane again and would certainly feel safe if they were to care for me or any of my family members. Iasis is exhibiting the behaviours that many of us saw coming when medicine became a business and less of a mission and it is a huge loss for everyone.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // January 29,2008 at 06:16 I couldn’t agree with ’concerned RN’ more. I have nothing but complete admiration for these nurses. You hit the nail on the head, the only ones that lose here are the hospital, the staff left behind and most of all t0eh patients. The nurses are the winners here, they will now be able to go to work and be appreciated instead of harassed on a daily bases. These three woman are some of the most skilled, compassionate, hard working, underpaided, nurses I know. I wouldn’t have wanted myself, my friends or family members cared for by anyone else. I just hope SLRMC can servive without them. Well I take that back, they wont be able to servive without them.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // January 28,2008 at 17:14 To Deal With It: You are obviously a clueless ignoramus who has no idea what it’s like to work in an ICU. To start, the vast majority does not make $40/hour; its much less than that. I have often realized that, ten hours into my shift, I have not eaten or gone to the bathroom much less taken a formal break. We are constantly dealing with under staffing and lack of any support staff to speak of, and our patients are increasingly more ill. We work mandatory overtime, and at all hours, weekdays, weekends, and holidays. We are highly skilled, and take great pride in what we do. Next time you or a loved one are hospitalized, don’t you want experienced nurses who not only know what they are doing, but care deeply about those under their watch? I worked at SLRMC with the nurses in question, along with many others. The staff there WERE some of the best nurses I have ever encountered, and I am and humbled to have been able to work alongside them. The management has shot themselves in the proverbial foot, and they will suffer as a result. More importantly, the remaining staff and the PATIENTS will suffer, too. Next time you see a nurse, hug them. We work with grace under the most difficult of conditions, and we take pride in what we do!

 

 
 
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