After 8-year union drive, Chicago nurses election begins

June 29, 2011

Download Story
(photo courtesy of AFSCME)
AFSCME members picket at Resurrection’s West Suburban Medical Center in 2009.
(Flickr/pmp205)
Patients arrive at Our Lady of the Resurrection.

Some nurses on Chicago’s Northwest Side have begun two days of voting in a closely watched union election.

Since 2002, Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has been trying to organize thousands of employees at Resurrection Health Care, a nonprofit Roman Catholic hospital chain based in Chicago. But management has not recognized the union. To gain a foothold, AFSCME asked the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election among about 290 registered nurses at one of the hospitals, Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center, 5645 W. Addison St.

Some pro-union nurses say their top concern is a patient-to-nurse ratio that has risen over the years. “We don’t feel like we’re doing a good job,” says Kathy Haff, a telemetry unit nurse who volunteers on an AFSCME organizing committee. “If we had a union contract, it would help a lot.”

The union also claims Resurrection is bearing down about the vote. “People that were wearing ‘yes’ buttons are afraid to wear them because then they’re targets for harassment,” Haff says.

But management says the only thing it has asked employees to do is vote. Resurrection insists that the pressure is coming from the union.

“For almost nine years, the union has been harassing Resurrection Health Care,” says Brian Crawford, the corporation’s vice president of public affairs, who says AFSCME unfairly accuses the hospital of abandoning its mission and shortchanging services. “This is the first time [the union] has actually petitioned for a vote, so we’re delighted.”

Crawford attributes the staffing problem to a “nationwide shortage of nurses” and claims that the AFSCME campaign has scared some away. “Nurses can work anywhere they want,” he says.

The vote could reverberate beyond the Resurrection chain. Unions have made little progress in Chicago-area hospitals aside from facilities owned by university and government entities.

The balloting will end Thursday evening.