Cayuga Medical Center Nurses Attempt Unionization
A group of nurses at Cayuga Medical Center are attempting to join the Service Employees International Union, the largest healthcare union in the country, due to issues with respect for nurses, patient safety and quality of care, according to complaints by nurses.
Scott Marsland, an emergency nurse at Cayuga Medical Center and a family nurse practitioner, said the unionization effort at CMC partially stemmed from a lack of respect for the nurses.
Marsland said that December 2014 was the first time in decades that employees at CMC did not get a bonus. That same year, the CEO of CMC got a $71,000 bonus, the CFO got a $29,000 bonus and the VP for Medical Affairs got a $42,000 bonus, Marsland said.
Another issue that is causing the nurses to unionize is understaffing, Marsland said. In a survey conducted by the group attempting to unionize, which was given in March 2016 to 54 nurses who support the unionization effort, 66 percent said in the past year they had worked more than 10 times without enough staff to safely care for patients.
“If a hospital wants to save money, one of the easiest things for the hospital to do is to cut back on nursing care,” Marsland said. Hospitals often push for a higher patient to nurse ratio and with fewer nurses caring for a greater amount of patients, Marsland explained, and as a result patients receive poorer care.
CMC is against the nurses unionizing. According to Marsland, on May 2, there will be a federal hearing with the National Labor Relations Board for the ways nurses claim CMC has violated federal law during the unionization process. These disputed actions worked to intimidate nurses from joining the union by preferential treatment for those that are opposed to it, and even trying to fire employees who are a part of it, Marsland said.
Robert Forrant, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and former union business agent, spoke of the benefits of unionization.
“If you look at the hospitals where there are nurses’ unions, the wages and benefits are always better universally than where there are no unions,” Forrant said.
A study done by the Department of Labor Statistics analyzed the difference of compensation between unionized and nonunionized workers. It said unionized workers in 2011 got paid on average $23.02 an hour whereas nonunionized workers only got paid $19.51.
Nurses’ unions also provide benefits to patient safety and mortality, according to a 2004 study done by Michael Ash of UMass Amherst and Jean Ann Seago of The University of California, San Francisco. This study said patients at hospitals with unionized nurses have 5.5 percent lower heart attack mortality than those at non-unionized hospitals.
However, some nurses at CMC don’t want to unionize. A per diem nurse from CMC who does not wish to be named due to worry about judgment from peers is against unionizing. She has worked at unionized hospitals in the past as support staff and is against unionizing because of her belief that unions treat people as a part of a group and not as individuals.
When coming to work at CMC 12 years ago, she “was glad they weren’t unionized, in the sense that any promotional type things I got would be based on the merits of the type of work that I do myself,” this nurse said.
Additionally, this nurse believes that if the hospital was unionized, there would be less flexibility with her bosses when it comes to time off. She gave an example of when her brother was sick with cancer and she decided to spend his last few months with him, making her unable to work. Her boss understood and once she got back after two months, her job was still there for her. She believes that if the hospital were unionized she would have likely lost her job.
“Generally in a unionized setting, you work the days that you’re supposed to work even if you can’t work them, and if you need to take time off you call in and take time off,” this nurse said.
In the case of a family emergency, this system would not help her, she said.
Additionally, Forrant said, unionized nurses have to pay dues to their union. If the hospital were unionized, all workers would be forced to be a part of the union as part of their contract.
In order for CMC nurses to join the Service Employees International Union, over 70 percent of employees must be “on card,” or have signed their support of the union, before they go to an actual vote, said Marsland.
Marsland said right now over 50 percent of nurses are on card for the union, but they are not yet to 70 percent. Marsland also said if they do not get up to 70 percent by May, the cards reset and have to be resigned, starting the process over again.
Cayuga Medical Center failed to respond when asked for comment.
Sophie Johnson is a freshman journalism major who listens to a lot of Pete Seeger in her spare time. You can email her at [email protected].