Barton nurses unionize |

Barton nurses unionize

by Ryan Hoffman
By a wide margin, nurses at Barton Health voted to unionize ealier this week.
Provided / California Nurses Association |

Nurses at Barton Health voted earlier this week to unionize, a move that will undoubtedly alter how one of the area’s largest employers interacts with some of its most vital employees.

Out of the approximately 150 nurses who were eligible to vote, 123 voted in favor of joining the California Nurses Association, while 17 voted against unionizing.

The wide margin of victory “shows the nurses of Barton Memorial Hospital are united in joining the California Nurses Association to provide the highest quality patient care and the best working conditions for nurses,” Jennifer Lemmon, assistant director of organizing at CNA, told the Tribune in an email Wednesday night.

Barton noted the outcome in a statement, adding that it remains committed to providing high-quality care.

“The nurses from Barton Memorial Hospital and Lake Tahoe Surgery Center have voted in favor of union representation,” the statement read. “Barton Health respects the nurses’ decision and right to join a union. We remain committed to providing high-quality, compassionate care together.”

As the Tribune previously reported, Barton leadership, which opposed unionization, and CNA voiced diverging views on the reason for the vote.

In an interview ahead of the vote, Dr. Clint Purvance, president and CEO of Barton Health, told the Tribune that he suspected a few factors were driving the vote, including recent turnover that caused a disruption in the communication between nurses and leadership. Purvance also cited larger trends in health care as part of the reason for the vote.

Lemmon said the vote was primarily about improving staffing levels and overall patient care — two items that lead Barton to point to a list of accreditations and recognitions centered on patient care and safety.

After the vote, several registered nurses from Barton issued brief statements detailing their hope that the move toward collective bargaining would improve staffing and care.

“As RNs, patient safety is always our top priority. However, with constant turnover retaining experienced nurses has been increasingly difficult. We want to see competitive wages and benefits so that we can recruit and retain experienced RNs at Barton and improve the standard of patient care at the hospital,” Paris Kelly, a Barton nurse, said in a statement provided by CNA.

“As patient advocates, we have voted for CNA representation in order to improve staffing and enforce state mandated nurse to patient ratios. Now, as we move to bargain a contract with Barton, this will be one of our main priorities,” Watson Kambenja, another Barton nurse, said in a statement.

A similar election took place at Barton nearly 30 years ago. According to Elizabeth Stork, Barton’s human resources administrative director, more than 50 percent of nurses voted against unionizing at the time.

Barton employs 205 registered nurses who provide care in the health system and additional registered nurses in administrative roles, Stork previously told the Tribune.

Approximately 75 percent of the registered nurses work at Barton Memorial Hospital or Lake Tahoe Surgery Center and were eligible to vote.

As for next steps, registered nurses will elect a team of their colleagues to represent them in talks with hospital officials on a first collective bargaining contract, according to CNA.

CNA framed the Barton vote as a cap to a banner year. According to a press release, 3,000 caregivers in 10 union elections have voted to unionize, which CNA co-president Malinda Markowitz said marks “a record of incredible accomplishment for CNA that will strengthen the ability of RNs to promote safer care conditions for all Californians.”

“We are proud of the Barton RNs and all their colleagues from Redding to Anaheim for choosing to unite with all California nurses to upgrade conditions and advocate for their patients, their co-workers, and their communities,” Markowitz added.

Voting was open during three different time periods — in the morning, afternoon and evening — Tuesday and Wednesday, according to a notice of election filing with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board. The vote was conducted by secret ballot.