Registered nurses (RNs) at Ascension Saint Agnes Hospital have successfully voted to form a union, claiming a historic victory as the first Baltimore hospital with a nurses’ union. The new union represents 522 nurses who work at the facility in Southwest Baltimore and will be part of National Nurses United, the country’s fastest growing nurses’ union. Saint Agnes is the fourth Ascension hospital to organize with NNU in the past year.
Nurses at Saint Agnes originally filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for union representation this past July, motivated in large part by their struggles with inadequate staffing levels. Sally Yoo, a nurse on the union’s organizing committee, told the Baltimore Banner that “I want to be able to provide care to people who come to the hospital… I want to actually spend time with patients, get to know them better. I don’t want to just go in and put a bandage on a wound and walk out.” Another nurse at Saint Agnes, Kimmy Rider, asserted that she and her coworkers unionized with the goal of “using our collective voice to win the conditions that we need as RNs to provide the quality care that our patients deserve.”
The nurses at Saint Agnes faced harsh retaliation from Ascension management in their effort to unionize over the past several months. In October, the workers filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB, alleging numerous charges including threatening to withdraw benefits due to the union petition, attempting to unlawfully ban workers from discussing a union, preemptively claiming that it will refuse to bargain with a union over certain subjects, and otherwise violating the Saint Agnes workers’ legal rights to freely organize. Ascension administration is currently under investigation for these charges.
The upcoming path to a strong contract could turn out to be long and frustrating for the Saint Agnes RNs. If successful, the resulting agreement would bring much needed relief for the overworked nurses and a boost in the quality of care for patients who rely on providers having the energy and time to offer quality care.
Other workers at Ascension St. Agnes of course also contribute significantly to the quality of patient care and have their own issues with management. As at any workplace, all workers at St. Agnes need each other to stand together against the bosses. The newly organized nurses at Saint Agnes recognize their collective power, joining together and organizing despite retribution from the bosses. They can be an inspiration and support to their colleagues at Saint Agnes and across the healthcare sector as well as all Baltimore workers.