Porter Medical Center nurses to vote on forming a union

MIDDLEBURY — Porter Medical Center’s combined total of around 130 nurses could vote as soon as next month on whether to form a union.
“I am confident it has a good chance,” Porter Hospital RN Alice Leo, one of the union organizers, said on Monday. “Nurses are feeling good about this, that it is the right thing to do.”
Leo cited staffing concerns as the motivating factor behind the union drive. She said many nurses are concerned that some units are shorthanded.
“We want to ensure safe staffing to provide safe patient care,” Leo said. That care, she said, must be extended to meet the patients’ “physical, emotional and spiritual needs.”
Porter Medical Center Chief Operating Officer Sal Morana said patient care is important to the Porter administration.
“Porter Hospital has always taken, and continues to take, steps to work directly with our clinical staff to address staffing issues; not just during times of high census, but at all times, to ensure a safe environment for our patients,” Morana said. “The health and safety of our patients is our primary concern.”
The union would cover Porter nurses at the hospital, Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center (the nursing home), and Porter Practice Management (office nurses), according to Leo.
Porter nurses began talking informally last fall about the concept of a union, according to Leo, who has worked at Porter since 1993. Organizers recently filed a petition with the U.S. Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that oversees union elections. Union supporters have selected the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals to represent them.
Porter nurses have not held any union-related votes thus far. Leo anticipates the vote on whether to form a union will occur within a month. Porter Medical Center is one of the county’s largest employers.
“The process is just beginning,” Leo said.
Porter administrators acknowledged the union drive. The hospital recently received state approval for its fiscal year 2014 spending plan of $69,809,477, which requires a 1.4-percent increase in net revenues and a 6-percent bump in gross charges. Porter Hospital spokesman Ron Hallman said it’s too early to determine how a union might affect Porter’s bottom line.
“We respect and value all of our nurses,” Hallman said in summarizing the Porter Medical Center administration’s response to the union drive. “If the nurses want to organize a union, we understand that they have the legal right to do so. Filing the petition is the first step in that process. Our focus needs to remain on patient care and serving our community.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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