Support staff at UVM Medical Center vote to unionize
About 2,200 nursing assistants, unit secretaries, kitchen workers and other support staff at Vermont’s largest hospital are poised to join a union. That’s after the group of employees voted in favor of collective bargaining effort during an election that concluded Friday.
In a vote that has yet to be certified by the National Labor Relations Board, over 1,100 employees of UVM Medical Center in Burlington cast ballots in favor of the union, while about 180 voted against. Workers will now be represented by AFT Vermont, which currently covers registered nurses and some technical staff at the hospital.
Workers will now be able to negotiate a contract with the hospital's administration. Union organizers said they plan to push for a $20 an hour minimum wage and higher staffing levels. Speaking outside the hospital Friday, Jordan Bushway, a licensed nursing assistant and a leader of the union effort, said current wages and staffing levels have led to a high turnover rate.
“Nobody can afford to live here and work here and do the job that we do and do it safely and go home and say they took care of patients to the best of their ability, because we don't have the staffing to do that,” she said.
In a written statement, Dr. Stephen Leffler, the hospital’s president and COO, said he believed the election allowed all staff voices to be heard. He said the administration expects “soon to begin negotiating in good faith a collective bargaining agreement. We will continue our work to ensure access and service for our patients, families and communities.”
The unionization effort among support staff is one of Vermont’s largest in recent years, and stands to substantially grow the ranks of organized labor in the state. Support staff are also positioned to join over 2,500 other unionized workers at UVM Medical Center, including registered nurses, licensed practicing nurses and some technical professionals. Last spring, resident physicians also voted in favor of forming a union.
Some contract negotiations at the hospital have been drawn out in recent years, including in 2018, when union nurses held a two-day strike. But Bushway said she’s feeling optimistic about the bargaining to come.
“I am going to go in with high hopes and think that our administration will come to us and meet with us at the table in a respectful manner, in a timely manner, and we're going to get this thing going,” she said. “I mean, we didn't fight for this to sit around and do nothing."