Porter nurses union gets OK; talks on contract not yet set

MIDDLEBURY — Porter Medical Center nurses have officially unionized under the banner of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. That confirmation comes in light of the fact that union supporters and Porter administrators have resolved 16 challenged ballots that were cast in the vote held on Nov. 7.

“The hospital and the nurses have come to an agreement on the challenged votes,” Registered Nurse Alice Leo, a union supporter and co-organizer, said on Monday.

“It’s an exciting time for Porter Hospital.”

It was earlier this year that Porter nurses announced their effort to form a collective bargaining unit. Supporters said they believed the presence of a union would, among other things:

•  Ensure safe staffing to “meet our patients’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs.”

•  Secure adequate resources to assist nursing in the delivery of “safe, quality patient care.”

•  Improve recruitment and retention and improve working conditions for nurses in all clinical settings.

•  Promote negotiation of a legally binding contract that fosters “an environment of professionalism and respect where nurses have an equal voice in decision-making.”

One-hundred-forty-six of Porter’s 150 nurses turned out to vote on the proposed union petition. Seventy-two nurses voted in favor of the union, while 58 were opposed. But there were also 16 ballots cast that were challenged by either union organizers or Porter administrators. Since those 16 contested ballots were more than the winning margin of the vote, it was anticipated that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would hold a hearing to help interpret the contested votes and, consequently, the outcome of the election.

But the two sides ultimately came to an agreement, and the NLRB certified the union on Nov. 22.

Leo said it will take awhile for the Porter Medical Center nurses’ union to organize itself. The fledgling body has yet to elect officers or begin the collective bargaining process with the Porter administration.

“The nurses will now come together and identify their priorities,” Leo said. Union organizers are preparing a collective bargaining survey that will be sent to nurses to pinpoint specific items to bring to the negotiating table.

“We are at the beginning of the process,” Leo stressed.

She added the union will reach out to all Porter nurses in hopes of maximizing membership.

Meanwhile, the Porter administration acknowledged the success of the union drive.

“As we move forward from this election, we do so with the recognition that our shared goal must be to keep our patients and our mission at the core of all future discussions; and that working together has never been more important to the essential work we do here in our community,” said Ron Hallman, Porter vice president for development and public relations. “It is unclear at this time what the specific timeline or actual next steps in this process will be, but we will be moving forward with the process of negotiations in good faith and with the interests of our community (specifically our patients and residents) and all of our employees who are at the center of everything we do and every decision we make.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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