Registered nurses at Queen of the Valley Medical Center voted by 64 percent Tuesday night to join the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United.
The RNs, who voiced a variety of concerns from safe staffing to unit closures, voted 248 to 140 to join CNA in a secret ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, according to CNA. Nearly 500 RNs at Queen of the Valley will now be represented by CNA.
CNA’s executive director, RoseAnn DeMoro, said she was not surprised by Tuesday night’s results. Many RNs at Queen of the Valley have had their “hearts set” on unionizing, but each year they were convinced by their employer that things would get better, DeMoro said.
“I’m very happy and proud of those nurses,” she said.
Growing concerns about economic cuts and appropriate staffing for both RNs and other hospital staff were key factors in the final decision, according to CNA.
MaryLou Bahn, who has been an RN at Queen of the Valley for 30 years, said this was at least the third time the nurses have voted on unionizing. The last vote took place about three years ago, and the proposal to join CNA failed by fewer than 20 votes, she said.
Bahn said the majority of nurses at Queen of the Valley have been wanting to belong to a professional organization “run by nurses, for nurses.”
“We’re all going to be patients one day,” she said. “You want nurses who are driven by high ethics and are protected by an association that advocates for the delivery of safe, quality patient care.”
Joining the union gives nurses a “very strong voice” in fighting for high-quality patient care, and it also creates a more stable workforce at the Queen, DeMoro said.
Hospital President and CEO Walt Mickens said union representation will not change the fact that healthcare reform and “other market forces” are creating challenges and changes in healthcare everywhere.
“We understand and appreciate that some of our nurses have concerns about stability. These are uncertain times, not just for healthcare, but for the nation,” Mickens said. “We will continue to confront these changes as we have always done, by holding true to our values and maintaining a work environment characterized by dignity, service and collaboration.”
The National Labor Relations Board must certify Tuesday night’s election results before they become official, according to Queen of the Valley. No other unions represent employees at the hospital.
DeMoro said she isn’t anticipating any problems with the National Labor Relations Board certifying the elections results, and she expects contract negotiations to begin immediately.
“While we await certification, the Queen remains focused on respecting the decision the majority of our Registered Nurses,” Mickens said. “It’s time to heal and move forward together.”
Mickens added that nothing will change Queen of the Valley’s mission of improving the health and quality of life for the people of Napa.
In April 2012, the hospital laid off 55 employees and reduced the hours of an additional 20. Queen of the Valley also reduced expenses by consolidating vendors and sharing resources with its sister hospitals within St. Joseph Health.
Mickens told the Napa Valley Register last year that budget cuts were necessary due to the economic downturn, decreased reimbursements for patient services, a fluctuating number of patients and sharp increases in charity care and bad debt.
During the past fiscal year, Queen of the Valley spent nearly $22.5 million in caring for un- and under-insured people, said Vanessa deGier, director of communications and marketing. Among those expenses, the hospital spent approximately $3.2 million in charity care and nearly $20 million represented unpaid costs of state and local programs, including Medi-Cal.
“The entire leadership team is proud of how all of our registered nurses and staff have remained committed to our patients throughout this process,” said Suki Stanton, vice president of Patient Care Services and chief nursing officer of Queen of the Valley.
“Nurses are healers. Our healing lies in our common commitment to every patient and family who comes to the Queen for care. We will continue to respect one another’s views and unite through our shared commitment to provide a healing environment not only for our patients, but for ourselves.”
CNA is a growing influence in the St. Joseph Health System, the Orange County-based hospital chain that operates Queen of the Valley. Overall, CNA now represents some 1,600 St. Joseph RNs at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka, Petaluma Valley Hospital in Petaluma, and St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley in Southern California as well as Queen of the Valley.
“With more CNA nurses in the St. Joe's Health System, we increase our ability to advocate for our patients and the communities we serve,” said Kerry Sweeney, a St. Joseph Eureka RN.
The win also reflects CNA’s strength in Catholic hospital systems. CNA is the largest organization representing Catholic hospitals nurses in the U.S., with 16,000 Catholic hospital RNs, the union said.