Lawmakers support Hopkins nurses’ efforts to unionize

By RACHEL JUIENG | April 11, 2019

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Panelists discussed issues such as understaffing and turnover COURTESY OF NATIONAL NURSES UNITED

Nurses from the Hopkins Hospital and members of National Nurses United (NNU), a union of registered nurses, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in June 2018. The nurses accused the Hospital of engaging in tactics designed to prevent the nurses from unionizing. 

Earlier this month, Maryland Delegate Robbyn Lewis and State Senator Mary Washington led 47 lawmakers in writing a letter to the Hospital in support of the nurses’ fight to unionize. The Maryland legislators’ letter to the University management comes in addition to letters already sent by U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, along with Congressmen Elijah Cummings and John Sarbanes. The Baltimore City Council passed a resolution in support of the Hopkins nurses’ campaign in December 2018.

“When registered nurses can speak freely and organize without fear of intimidation, retribution or harassment, it empowers them to provide quality, therapeutic care and to advocate for patients for improved quality of care. The choice of whether to join a union must be solely up to nurses,” she said. “Hopkins hospital management must respect the nurses’ rights by immediately stopping their interference and allowing nurses to make their own decision about joining a union. Baltimoreans who rely on Johns Hopkins Medicine will benefit from a speedy resolution to this ongoing situation.”

In December, the nurses conducted a unit-by-unit study with the support of NNU that resulted in three investigative reports on the Hopkins Hospital. Through these reports, the nurses sought to prove that the Hospital had created an unsuitable working environment and unsafe conditions for patients and nurses.

The reports focused on understaffing, mandatory overtime, and insufficient safety equipment and procedures.

According to the Baltimore Sun, there are few nurses in the state of Maryland that are represented by unions.

On April 6, CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine Paul B. Rothman wrote a letter to Senator Joanne Benson in which he expressed the Hospital’s position. 

“We do not agree that Hopkins has violated federal labor law. The NLRB regional director has determined that an allegation made by nursing union representatives about some of our workplace policies can move forward to a fact-finding hearing,” the letter reads. 

The NLRB has the power to appeal to federal courts and force institutions to comply with labor laws. 

After multiple hearings, the NLRB has determined that there is merit to allegations that the Hospital has violated federal labor regulations by preventing nurses from organizing. 

Another NLRB hearing on the nurses’ complaint is scheduled for June 4 in Baltimore.

Graduate student Joanna Behrman, who represents Teachers and Researchers United (TRU), a graduate student workers’ advocacy group, emphasized the TRU’s support of the nurses’ efforts.

“Despite illegal and immoral union busting, the nurses remain motivated because they know that patient conditions have to improve at Johns Hopkins Hospital,” Behrman wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “A union will enable nurses to have a collective voice at their work place without fear of retaliation from management. Through a negotiated contract with management, a nurse’s union would improve and protect patient care at Hopkins.”

Peter Weck, a Physics & Astronomy graduate student, a member of the Hopkins Coalition Against ICE and TRU, supports the nurses. 

“Basically, Hopkins is throwing lawyers and money at the problem to obstruct the nurses’ efforts as much as they can and is denying them basic democratic rights,” he said. 

The nurses’ major concerns are twofold — they claim that they have been both overworked and underpaid. Though Hopkins is not legally required to release salary information, nurses allege that they are paid less than the state’s average salary for nurses. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, the Mid Atlantic Collective Bargaining Director for NNU Corey Lanham spoke to the growing momentum the nurses have experienced throughout Maryland.

“Nurses at Hopkins are gaining support among legislators with respect to the University’s anti-union campaign. I think for 47 senators and delegates to sign on to a letter demanding that Hopkins respect the rights of nurses is important and demonstrates to nurses that are scared of the Hopkins tactics that they do have rights to organize. This means that nurses are gaining political support for their campaign in the community — gathering community support and coworkers support for this broad campaign for nurses’ representation.”

In an interview with The News-Letter, State Senator Mary Washington reiterated her support of the nurses. 

“Right now, the nurses don’t have the power to say anything — it’s driven by the management board and the Board of Trustees. Rather than having public health concerns be the priority for the Hospital, it’s just economic concerns. Unions have the opportunity to bring back the economic concerns of the workers and the public health concerns of the patients. It’s a life or death situation.”

Like Washington, Weck believes that the Hospital prioritizes economic convenience over public health.

“Although Hopkins is legally a nonprofit, we know that all they care most about is their bottom line. With the private police issue, it’s clear that Hopkins is making decisions based on the interests of a few rich donors and members of its leadership and not the students or the faculty. The priority of the institution is money,” he said. 

Washington highlighted the unique connection between nurses and patients. 

“Nurses are uniquely positioned to advocate on behalf of not only themselves but also their patients,” she said. “That’s why I support them.”

Corrections: A previous version of this article stated that the NLRB has found Hopkins guilty of violating federal labor law on three occasions as of November 2018. The NLRB has not reached a final decision on the matter.

Several quotes were incorrectly attributed to Kim Hoppe, the Senior Director of Public Relations and Corporate Communications of Johns Hopkins Medicine. 

The News-Letter regrets these errors.

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