850 RNs and healthcare professionals vote to join NUHW
Approximately 850 registered nurses and healthcare professionals at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital in Orange County have voted to leave United Nurses Associations of California (UNAC) and join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).
In a vote-by-mail election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, the caregivers voted by a margin of 77 percent to 23 percent to join NUHW, which already represented nearly 700 workers at the Tenet-owned hospital, including respiratory therapists, nursing assistants, lab technicians, operating room technicians, pharmacy technicians and radiology technicians.
“We’re excited to be joining a union that will empower us to improve our working conditions and provide better care for our patients,” said Sue Tomol, a registered nurse at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital. “There is so much we want to accomplish to provide the highest quality care that our patients and community deserve. Now we’re going to have the resources and support to get the job done.”
The caregivers joining NUHW include registered nurses, social workers, case managers, occupational therapists, clinical lab scientists, speech therapists, physical therapists and pharmacists. After being represented by UNAC for decades, they petitioned to join NUHW in early January after witnessing their NUHW colleagues successfully win COVID safety protections and a strong contract with significant economic improvements.
“There was such a stark contrast between what NUHW members were doing to advocate for each other and how little support we got from our union.” said Anne Gelvezon, a registered nurse at Fountain Valley. “UNAC agreed to give away benefits in bargaining and wasn’t present in our hospital during the worst days of the pandemic when we were facing the greatest challenge of our careers.”
At the outset of the pandemic, NUHW members at Fountain Valley filed a complaint with the California Department of Public Health that resulted in the agency issuing a 33-page report, ordering Fountain Valley to remedy “systemic” infection control violations — including placing an adult COVID patient in a pediatric unit — that put both caregivers and patients at increased risk for contracting COVID-19.
After authorizing a strike last year, NUHW members at the hospital secured a three-year contract that raised salaries by an average of 15 percent in the first year, with additional raises in the subsequent two years as well as a reduction in healthcare premiums.
Tomol, who works at Fountain Valley’s post-anesthetic care unit, told the Los Angeles Times, that although she and her colleagues experienced higher-than-usual patient loads and difficult conditions during the pandemic, they had little contact with union representatives from UNAC.
“We saw what NUHW was doing for the employees they represented,” Tomol told the paper. “They were supporting them. They were reaching out and following up. They were helping people get the things they were owed. UNAC never reached out to us.”
Last year, the Fountain Valley registered nurses and healthcare professionals approached their NUHW colleagues about joining. About 80 percent signed a petition triggering the election, the results of which were tallied on Tuesday.
NUHW had already represented nearly 1,000 workers at Tenet-owned hospitals in Southern California including Fountain Valley Regional, Lakeside Medical Center and Los Alamitos Medical Center. That figure will nearly double with the vote by registered nurses and healthcare professionals at Fountain Valley. Overall, NUHW, which was founded in 2009, now represents more than 16,000 healthcare workers in California.
“This is a victory for caregivers and patients in Orange County,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “Our members at Fountain Valley have shown how much workers can accomplish when they’re able to set their own agenda and are given the tools to take on a powerful Fortune 500 Corporation like Tenet. We’re excited to welcome our newest members and empower them to achieve their goals.”