Nurses at Kalispell Regional Healthcare (KRH) have overwhelmingly voted to unionize with 372 in favor compared to 199 against in a secret ballot election held on July 11 and 12 that was overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.
The vote will create a bargaining unit of roughly 650 nurses across the KRH system, including Kalispell Regional Medical Center, The HealthCenter, Brendan House and other clinics, although it excludes North Valley Hospital.
The nurses are represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare 1199NW, a Washington-based union.
According to a press release from SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, nurses say they voted to join in order to “have a voice in their future, a great ability to advocate for their patients’ safety and quality care, and an environment in which their contributions and insights are valued.”
“As a nurse my top priority is providing the best possible care to my patients every single shift,” said Sarah Johnson, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit. “With the current climate and changes at KRMC it’s been difficult to do that. We constantly work short staffed and struggle to retain skilled and seasoned nurses. Having the nurses united in SEIU Healthcare 1199NW means we can make changes in our hospital that will ultimately create the hospital and environment we envision for our patients and community.”
In a statement, KRH President and Chief Executive Office Craig Lambrecht addressed the election results.
“While I respect the outcome of this vote, I am disappointed that this pathway was chosen over what I believe to be the better approach of having a direct working relationship with our nurses to continually improve patient care and move the organization forward,” Lambrecht said.
Lambrecht said the “full impact of operating in a unionized environment is unknown,” although he said KRH “will continue to work with employees and the union throughout the collective bargaining process.”
“We will now move forward with a union presence and are preparing for that reality,” Lambrecht said.
More than 550 nurses cast votes in the election. In addition to concerns over staffing levels and quality of patient care and safety, nurses have also cited unfair wages, lack of wage transparency, loss of benefits, low morale and inability to voice concerns as grievances in their unionization push.
“This is a new chapter for KRH,” said Katrina Rauthe, a registered nurse at Rocky Mountain Heart and Lung. “As nurses we work collaboratively every day to solve problems, and being in union will make it possible for us to sit at the table with our new CEO to collaborate on offering the best healthcare we can.”
SEIU says the next step for the “newly ratified union is to elect a bargaining committee, which will survey union members about their priorities for their first collective contract negotiation.”