After four-year effort, Santa Rosa Memorial caregivers petition to form a union with NUHW

NewsApril 14, 2009

Santa Rosa, Calif.—More than 650 nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, radiology technologists, and others at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital could join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) as soon as next month. Caregivers filed a petition on Monday with the National Labor Relations Board after a four-year effort to get the St. Joseph Health System to agree to fair ground rules for a union election.

“Right now, frontline caregivers don’t have a real say in the decisions that affect us and our patients,” said Shirley Cervelli, a licensed vocational nurse at Memorial for 22 years. “And with the recent layoffs, we’re worried about having enough staff and job security. We want to join together and have a stronger voice to make Memorial better for patients and a better place to work.”

Workers who support forming a union have faced deep opposition from the hospital’s management, and for the last four years have asked the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, who run the chain of hospitals, to agree to election rules that would give workers a free choice. After an outpouring of support from community and religious leaders in August, General Superior Sister Katherine Gray, CSJ, pledged to “set mutually agreed ground rules in a timely manner” once caregivers filed with the labor board for an election.

“Caregivers should be able to join together in a union to advocate for themselves and their patients, without intimidation, threats, and misinformation,” said JoAnn Consiglieri, a former Sister of St. Joseph of Orange.

“The faith community stands with workers at Santa Rosa Memorial. We want the Sisters to make good on their promise to their employees, and agree to basic ground rules of truth and fairness so that workers are free to make their own decision.”

Caregivers at Memorial had been working to join SEIU’s local healthcare union until January, but started organizing with NUHW instead after national SEIU officials seized the local union in a hostile takeover and removed more than 80 healthcare workers from elected leadership positions.

NUHW was founded by union reformers after the takeover, and in less than three months more than 95,000 workers in California have petitioned to join NUHW for a stronger voice on the job and a democratic voice in their union.

“We’re choosing NUHW because it’s led by healthcare workers and it was founded on the principle of democracy,” said Nancy Timberlake, a telemetry technician at Memorial for 24 years. The fact that nearly 100,000 healthcare workers have petitioned to join NUHW means that we’ll be able to build a strong union and have a real voice at Memorial.”

The labor board is expected to schedule an election within 45 days so that workers can vote on whether to join the union.

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The National Union of Healthcare Workers is an independent, member-led union, dedicated to improving the lives of healthcare workers and the people they care for. NUHW is building a national movement of caregivers to hold healthcare corporations accountable to the public interest and win affordable, quality healthcare for all.