MID-CITY — After years of fighting with management for the right to unionize, nurses at Saint John’s Health Center on Thursday voted in favor of joining the California Nurses Association, a move they hope will lead to better pay, benefits and improvements in patient care.

Sixty-four percent of nurses who voted chose to join CNA, a founding member of the 150,000-member National Nurses United, the largest union and professional association of nurses in the U.S. The vote was 269 to 149, with some 22 challenges in the secret ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, representatives with CNA said.

Saint John’s nurses greeted the election victory with cheers and hugs, said Lori Hammond, a registered nurse at the Mid-City hospital who has been one of the most outspoken supporters of unionization.

“This was the most wonderful, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” she said. “It was harder than giving birth.”

CNA will represent 500 registered nurses at the hospital, which is part of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System based in Kansas.

NNU and CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro praised the “courageous” Saint John’s RNs. She noted the “excessive aggression toward the nurses for years for wanting to have rights to advocate for their patients demonstrating why nurses need a union.”

In June of 2010, a federal administrative law judge ruled in favor of the nurses and the National Labor Relations Board, saying Saint John’s violated federal labor laws. The judge ordered Saint John’s administration to stop harassing and intimidating nurses and to post a document at the hospital stating the nurses have the right to organize.

At that time administrators said they were only trying to have the nurses in favor of unionizing to “modify” their activities after trying to “disrupt activities at the hospital.”

Lou Lazatin, president and CEO of Saint John’s, said she was “disappointed” with the outcome of the union election, but “we appreciate all of the nurses who looked at the facts and listened to the information provided before casting their vote.”

“Saint John’s Health Center respects the opinions of our nurses,” Lazatin added. “Going forward, Saint John’s will continue to provide the same high quality of care for our community, and we will continue to support our staff as much as possible so they can focus their energy on taking care of our patients.”

Nurses said they will demand better pay and retirement benefits and address what they believe is a failure on behalf of the hospital to comply with California’s nurse-to-patient staffing ratio law.

“I’ve been here for 22 and a half years. I was born in the old Saint John’s,” said Saint John’s RN Donna Schonlaw. “This was a yes vote for patients, for fair treatment, for what we’ve gone without for a long time. I’m happy.” 

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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