Ellis Medicine management has agreed to recognize Bellevue Woman’s Center nurses’ membership in the New York State Nurses Association, as long as they vote to do so in a secret ballot election.
Union officials said Ellis CEO Jim Connolly met with nurses Wednesday night, less than a week after they took to the sidewalk in front of Ellis Hospital to speak out to the public and media about their desire to unionize. A group of Bellevue nurses and NYSNA representatives delivered a formal petition to Connolly’s office just before the speak-out with the signatures of 105 of Bellevue’s 125 nurses. They said then that hospital management had ignored their concerns and requests for meetings.
“He did not recognize our petition, even though we had an overwhelming majority of nurses sign it,” said Christine Walthers, a nurse at Bellevue who attended Wednesday’s meeting. “His comment at the meeting last night was that the decision was ours, but that he would recognize our membership after a secret ballot election.”
In a secret ballot election, each person’s vote is kept secret to ensure no one faces intimidation or peer pressure.
“Here’s the hitch,” NYSNA spokesman Dan Lutz said in an email. “Most of these elections are held by the federal government through the National Labor Relations Board. But most of the board is shut down now.”
The board’s website says it is currently closed “due to a lapse in appropriated funds,” but added that it’s keeping some necessary and emergency services and programs operational during the shutdown. It’s unclear whether the nurses’ request falls under such services.
The shutdown may stall the nurses’ wish to unionize at a time when the model of care they are being asked to deliver has them worried for patient safety.
The problem started earlier this year, Walthers said at last week’s speak-out, when Ellis management told Bellevue staff they would begin following a new model of care known as mother-baby.
This required nurses who previously cared for only new mothers or only new babies to now care for both mother and child after birth.
Some nurses expressed concern they didn’t have the right training to care for newborns, especially in emergency situations. They said management wouldn’t listen to their concerns and appeared to have no plan to guide them through the change in care.
“We need a voice,” said Walthers. “We need to be recognized. We need the doctors and administration to remember that we are a key component to the well-being of every person who walks through our door. We feel it’s imperative that nurses get a loud and clear voice, and in my opinion, being a member of a union goes hand in hand with that.”
Bellevue nurses are the only nurses under the Ellis Medicine umbrella without union representation, and the change in care was the impetus for their recent petition to unionize.
“Mr. Connolly said, ‘I bargain with the nurses at Nott Street and the former St. Clare’s, I can bargain with you,’ ” said Walthers. “But now we may end up victims of this government shutdown. We don’t want it to hinder our process or drag it along in any way. We’re talking within a week that we really want to move forward on this.”
A group of nurses will officially request a secret ballot election today at the National Labor Relations Board’s local office in Albany.
“The board is not the only way to get official recognition,” said Lutz. “Many unions have been recognized legally through alternative election processes where an independent outside group conducts the election count. We’ll see [today] if we can get the feds to conduct the election. If not, we’ll be going back to Connolly to ask for an alternate form of an election.”
A spokesman for Ellis Medicine could not be reached for comment Thursday.