KRH Nurses File Petition to Form Union

Hundreds of nurses would be part of bargaining unit; nurses say union is necessary to ensure quality patient care and workplace conditions

By Myers Reece
Kalispell Regional Medical Center. Beacon File Photo

Nurses from Kalispell Regional Medical Center, The HealthCenter, Brendan House and Kalispell Regional Healthcare clinics filed a petition on June 13 with the National Labor Relations Board to form a union with SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, according to a press release from organizing nurses.

In its own press release, Kalispell Regional Healthcare (KRH) said CEO and President Craig Lambrecht received a hand-delivered letter on June 13 announcing the petition to unionize while asking KRH to recognize the union and to “come to a common agreement that recognizes (the) union.”

Organizing nurses say the petition was signed by an “overwhelming majority of nurses, who say forming a union is necessary step in ensuring quality care and good jobs for all hospital workers.”

“Recent changes, including restructuring of nurse positions, have impacted care, and the nurses say that management has not listened to their concerns,” the nurses continued in their press release.

“Management has made changes to staffing levels that might be good for the bottom line but make it hard to care for our patients,” Karen Rupp, a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit, said. “We’re forming our union to have a seat at the table when proposals are made that could impact patients and our community.”

“We need action from our management to improve patient care and the conditions at our workplace,” added John Fitch, an Emergency Department registered nurse. “Nurses on the ground level and at the bedside want a say in making sure our patients have positive experiences and outcomes. We’re asking management to come to the table, hear our concerns and work with us to make this a safer place for our patients. Above all, we’re asking for management to put patients first.”

Nurses say the bargaining unit would encompass roughly 700 nurses across most of the KRH system, including major clinics such as the Neuroscience & Spine Institute and Rocky Mountain Heart and Lung. Organizers say North Valley Hospital, as a separate entity, would need to file its own petition to form a union.

The nurses’ release said they have raised patient-care concerns with management “but have been ignored.” Cindy Hinzman, one of the organizing nurses, said the hospital has enacted cost-cutting measures that have put patient care and safety at risk. She cited nurse-to-staff ratio as an example.

“The community isn’t aware of our nursing-to-staff ratios and how they’ve tightened and tightened and tightened them,” Hinzman said. “There’s not enough nurses to go around.”

In the past, organizing nurses have also cited unfair wages, loss of benefits and low morale as grievances in their unionization push.

In its release, KRH said the letter from the organizing committee “does not specify which employees the SEIU seeks to represent.”

“However, KRH respects all of its employees’ rights concerning this issue,” the hospital statement says. “Specifically, under the law, employees have the right to support unionization, and they have the equal right not to support unionization.”

“We believe the best way to honor and respect employees’ individual rights to choose or to reject union representation is through the legal process by which the National Labor Relations Board conducts a secret ballot election that allows employees to vote on the matter,” the KRH statement continues.

“For that reason, KRH will not agree to any request to simply ‘recognize’ the SEIU as the representative for a group of our employees, because doing so would deprive employees of their legal right to decide for themselves, through the NLRB election process, whether they want union representation.”

Organizing nurses say support for a union is “widespread among nurses across departments, clinics and shifts” at KRMC, The HealthCenter, Brendan House and the numerous clinics.

Nurses said one reason they favored SEIU Healthcare 1199NW is because it encompasses all hospital employees, leaving the door open for other staff to file their own petitions. An organizing nurse said “other groups are ready to organize, too; they’re just waiting for us be successful.”

According to the nurses’ press release, Washington-based SEIU Healthcare 1199NW is a “union of nurses and healthcare workers with over 30,000 caregivers throughout hospitals, clinics, mental health, skilled home health and hospice programs.

Nurses are calling for a “fast and fair election without legal delay.”

“The election could occur within the next three to four weeks with NLRB approval,” the nurses say. “If nurses vote to become a union, management would be legally obligated to bargain working conditions, wages and benefits in good faith.”

KRH says it will “cooperate with the NLRB as the process moves forward.”