Registered nurses at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children in Bayside voted overwhelmingly last week to join Local 1199 SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East.
The 98 RNs voted in favor by 90 percent to join the Service Employees International Union. In August, 222 licensed professional nurses, nurses aides, clerks, dietary workers, housekeepers and others also voted by a wide margin to join 1199.
Union officials said the larger group has already begun the bargaining process with the hospital administration and the registered nurses will sit down soon to negotiate their contract with job improvements.
Most nurses interviewed said their prime motivations to join the union were job security and to better help their patients.
Maureen Drew of Oakland Gardens has worked as an RN at St. Mary’s for 22 years. “I am looking for job security as well as a chance to advocate for the patients,” Drew said. “My voice wasn’t heard, and with the union I’ll have the backing of all my brothers and sisters.”
She believes that over the years the facility has lost its small hospital feeling, noting the staff had closer relations when it was run by nuns. Now it’s more “corporate.”
“The union is not a bad thing for the hospital,” Drew said, “because we still want to give good patient care.”
According to union spokesman Dave Bates, during the campaign there to unionize, the nurses “faced a harsh anti-union campaign” from the administration but were supported by 1199 RN members from area facilities including New York Hospital Queens, Forest Hills and Jamaica hospitals.
St. Mary’s spokeswoman Leslie Johnson said hospital officials acknowledged the union vote, but declined to comment further.
Marie Mendoza of Flushing has worked at St. Mary’s for almost three years and believes that joining the union will help give her job security. “There were a lot of terminations due to unfair disciplinary action,” Mendoza said, “and we wouldn’t have any recourse.”
She previously worked at a hospital where she was a member of 1199 and believes membership at St. Mary’s “will give us a voice. I didn’t feel we were acknowledged.”
Mendoza also hopes membership will allow for better staffing at the facility to help the children.
Cindy MacDonald of Bayside has worked at St. Mary’s for 2 1/2 years. “I think unionizing will benefit everyone, even management,” MacDonald said. “There were a lot of inconsistencies, which causes confusion and a high turnover.”
She also believes it will provide a more secure work environment. “There will be more defined rules of behavior for everyone,” MacDonald said.