Loretto Hospital registered nurses vote to unionize

After a decade of trying, AFSCME gains a foothold among hospital nurses in Chicago.

May 30, 2012

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Updated June 6, 2012, to include hospital management comments.

A union that has been trying for a decade to gain a foothold among hospital nurses in Chicago has won an election to represent 144 of them in the Austin neighborhood.

Registered nurses at Loretto Hospital voted 80-37 to bring in Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The two-day vote, which ended Saturday, allows AFSCME to negotiate the pay, benefits and work conditions of RNs at the hospital’s main facility, 645 S. Central Ave.

“If you don’t have happy nurses, you don’t have happy patients,” said Kora Fields, an RN in the hospital’s behavioral health unit who says she voted for the union.

“I live in the Austin area,” Fields said. “I grew up in the Austin area. My family comes to this hospital. My friends are treated here. I do love Loretto Hospital. But there needs to be increases in wages and we need to be respected as the professionals that we are.”

An AFSCME statement says pro-union nurses defied an “aggressive anti-union campaign” by Loretto management. The statement praises the nurses for their “unwavering determination to improve patient care and ensure fair treatment on the job.”

Loretto spokesman Jim Waller called the hospital’s nurse wages “competitive for the marketplace” and denied that management campaigned against AFSCME. “We were just being clear what being in a union is and that what’s paramount to us is patient safety,” he said.

Loretto, a 187-bed nonprofit facility, has helped lead an effort this year to exempt Illinois safety-net hospitals from proposed state Medicaid payment cuts.

The vote, supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, makes Loretto the second Chicago hospital whose registered nurses have unionized this year. In January, National Nurses United won an election to represent 150 at the South Side’s Jackson Park Hospital and Medical Center.

Until the Jackson Park election, unions had made little progress in Chicago-area hospitals except those owned by university and government entities.

The Loretto vote marks a rebound for AFSCME, which lost a bruising election battle last summer at the Northwest Side’s Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center. RNs at that hospital voted against AFSCME after more than eight years of campaigning by the union.