State of the Union:
The Fletcher Allen Health Care Nurses' Union Five Years On
When nurses at Fletcher Allen Health Care (FAHC) agreed to unionize in a second vote in the fall of 2002, the union - United Professions of Vermont (UPV), the state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) - broadcast the news in a triumphant press release. According to AFT President Sandra Feldman, the union was necessary because of nurses' "desire to improve standards of patient care, secure a healthy and safe working environment, and establish equitable wages and benefits for front-line health care workers." The release also quoted Peg Coon, a registered nurse (RN) at FAHC and union organizer, as saying: "Everything in this campaign boiled down to nurses' concern over quality patient care. There aren't enough nurses to care for patients, and having a voice in patient-care decisions will make a big difference. Also, competitive wages and benefits will improve recruitment and retention, which will in turn improve patient care."
Are there enough nurses now at FAHC to care for patients? And if so, can the union claim some responsibility? Five years on, are the nurses at Fletcher Allen - now one of five of Vermont's 14 hospitals to have unionized nurses - glad they unionized, for their own and their patients' sakes?
While the press release placed wages last in their lists of reasons to unionize, increased pay is generally the first thing nurses mention when asked about the pros and cons of being unionized. Regina Helias, an RN from St. Albans, has been a night nurse for 19 years in FAHC's Medical Intensive Care Unit and Coronary Care Unit (MICU-CCU), and she worked for 11 years before that in Tucson, Arizona. For her, the pay increase is "just about the only positive thing about the union."
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