Vermont’s largest healthcare union will nearly double in size

The support and technician staff recruited by the University of Vermont Medical Center voted overwhelmingly this week to join other hospital nurses and technicians as part of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.

More than 1,300 people took part in the vote, which was administered by representatives of the National Labor Relations Board over three days on UVM Medical Center’s main campus and in the cafeteria on the Fannie Allen campus. The federation announced the results of the vote, 997-163 for the support staff and 123-18 for the technical staff, late Friday afternoon.

“The energy in the building is really excited,” said Jacob Berkowitz, a member of the 70-person union organizing committee and staffing office specialist at the hospital. After 11 months of efforts to get organized, he said, “to finally get this union together and win in such a strong way, it’s an amazing feeling.”

As a result of both votes, the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, already the state’s largest affiliation representing about 2,500 health care workers, will double in size by bringing an additional 2,200 support staff under representation. The union is an affiliate of the American National Federation of Teachers, or AFT, an arm of the AFL-CIO, one of the nation’s oldest labor organizations, which it described as “possibly the largest private sector election ever in Vermont.”

Support staff from a variety of categories will participate in a new negotiating unit that will include Licensed Nursing Assistants, Laboratory and Office Assistants, Phlebotomy, Food Service, Janitorial Workers, Schedulers and Parking Attendants. It will include staff from each of the hospital and more than a dozen external offices, including family medicine, dentistry, ophthalmology, orthopedics, and others.

A separate vote added mental health workers from emergency departments and psychiatry, as well as pharmacy and laboratory technicians, to the negotiating unit of the existing technical staff.

Organizing across many different departments and facilities made the effort challenging, but also rewarding, Berkowitz said, ensuring members came from all walks of life and included people from many different racial and ethnic groups.

The process of building the union during the many hours together outside of work has brought them closer and created a real sense of community, said Nathalie Cartier, a pharmacy specialist. “I see a lot of people now, passing them in the hall,” she said, “and I know we have each other’s best interests at heart.” “We each other’s back.”

Organizers said the outcome of the two votes also has symbolic significance for worker representation in general. UVM Medical Center is the largest employer in the state with 8,800 employees, more than half of whom will now be represented by the same union organization.

Stephen Leffler, president and CEO of UVM Medical Center, said in an emailed statement that the organization is “committed to a culture in which our employees feel heard, respected, and supported.”

“We believe the on-site election by the National Labor Relations Board has achieved this goal, and we expect to be in touch with the union soon to begin negotiating in good faith a collective bargaining agreement,” he wrote.

Unions have been heating up at UVM Medical Center in recent years. medical residents They voted to form Their own union, which was active in seeking better wages and working conditions for its members. The nurses went on strike in 2018 during contract negotiations, and successfully negotiated to get paid wage increase in the middle of the decade last year.

AFT Vermont also represents the healthcare workers at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Community Health Centers in Burlington. The regional independent consortium, Nurses United and Allied Specialists, represents nurses and other healthcare workers at other hospitals in the state, including Copley Hospital in Morrisville, Springfield Hospital, and Brattleboro Retreat.

Union membership nationwide fell to a new low last year, making up just 10.1% of workers, according to new 2022 numbers In the last week of a survey conducted annually by the US Department of Labor. Thirty years ago, that percentage was over 20%.

According to the survey, just over 12% of Vermont workers are union members. The percentage is slightly higher among affiliated health care practitioners and technicians nationwide at 13%, but lower among health care support workers, at 9.3%.

Berkowitz and Cartier both said they were inspired by the passion and work ethic that their colleagues bring to their jobs every day, and they want to see that acknowledged. “We are definitely the backbone of the hospital,” said Cartier.

The new bargaining unit will also seek better wages, specifically a minimum wage of at least $20 an hour. “Bottom line, that’s the living wage in this county and in this state,” Berkowitz said. “It is essential to have that for hard working people who deal with patience.”

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