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Porter Medical Center support staff, technical employees vote to unionize

A photo of a brick building with greenery out front, all dappled in warm sunlight.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public File
Porter Medical Center in Middlebury, photographed in September 2023. On Wednesday, several hundred support staff and technical employees voted to form a union.

On Wednesday, several hundred support staff and technical employees at Porter Medical Center in Middlebury voted to form a union. They join a growing number of staffers collectively bargaining with their Vermont hospital employers.

As radiology technologist Liz Willey explains, this is the culmination of an effort that began over the summer.

“It was actually three or four of us meeting at Fire & Ice, to talk about just how Porter needs to do better for their employees," Willey says. "How undervalued, unappreciated, under-compensated we are.”

A photo of a blonde woman with light skin wearing a face mask and posing with a skeleton with its arms wrapped around its shoulders.
Liz Willey is one of the main organizers behind the effort for Porter Medical Center support staff and technical employees to unionize.

Also at those early Fire & Ice meetings was fellow radiology technologist Maya Schnell. She says as a small rural community hospital, Porter is short-staffed, and people aren’t paid as well as at big hospitals.

"I remember talking to one of the guys that works in linen, and he just said he was alone on a shift, and he had to do 800 pounds of laundry by himself in a shift, because nobody else came in a night," she says. "And I think a lot of us at Porter shoulder a lot of that — we carry a lot of weight, because we care about our community."

Both women say they've been inspired by similar unions forming at University of Vermont Medical Center and Central Vermont Medical Center. And that while getting to this point was difficult and tedious, there were also encouraging moments.

"I think a lot of people in this environment are kind of ignorant of just what unions are, which, you know, is understandable," Schnell says. "And I think we're isolated in some ways... And to get to know these people and hear what they had to say and then start to really care about what happens in their future was very powerful."

A photo of a lot of people in a light-green-walled room with University of Vermont Health Network printed on the far wall. Most people are standing around the wall, and some are sitting at a table. Many are wearing scrubs.
Porter Medical Center staff gather in a conference room before going to tell the hospital president about their plans to form a union. This image was made by Maya Schnell, one of the main organizers behind the unionization effort, and also the person tasked with documenting the process through photos like this one.

"The thing that I love so much about this movement is that it's inclusive," Willey says. "And it's not about any one department. It's not about any one group of people. It's... pretty much the whole hospital."

She adds that this is not about bankrupting their employer, but rather making Porter a better workplace.

"Personally, I love my job," Willey says. "And the majority of the people that I've talked to across the hospital in varying roles and varying departments — we all love it here. And we know that they can do better by us and make it more equitable."

A photo of a light-skinned person with red hair tied up. She's wearing a leopard print bandana, goggles on her forehead, glasses and a face mask. She's also in a sweatshirt and has a medical name badge. Behind her is sterile hospital setting -- white walls and a clock.
Radiology technologist Maya Schnell, photographed during pandemic times.

Schnell says when they told the hospital of their plans to unionize, it was a respectful exchange. In a written statement shared with Vermont Public, a spokesperson for Porter Medical Center said it was "committed to a culture where our people feel heard, respected, and supported."

"As the local community hospital and nursing home for the Addison County region, every single one of our employees is central to delivering exceptional patient care," the statement says. "We respect the right of our employees to decide whether they want to join a union, and will work with the Porter Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals and the National Labor Relations Board to determine next steps and ensure each person’s voice is heard. We will continue our work to ensure access and service for our patients, families and communities."

Porter Medical Center employs about 700 people, according to the spokesperson.

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Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
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