Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center nurses end union campaign

Guests tour a wing of the new Patient Pavilion at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., on Friday, April 14, 2023, that will become the new home of the facilty's heart and vascular unit when it opens in May. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Guests tour a wing of the new Patient Pavilion at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., on Friday, April 14, 2023, that will become the new home of the facilty's heart and vascular unit when it opens in May. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

By CHRISTINA DOLAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-24-2024 7:15 PM

LEBANON — For the third time since 2008, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center nurses have ended a unionization campaign before holding an election.

The Dartmouth Nurses Alliance, the organizational face of the organizing effort, announced on social media Sunday morning that it had ended the drive, which began in early March, due to insufficient support for unionization among DHMC’s roughly 2,200 nurses.

“We said we would only move forward to an election when we were confident a supermajority of nurses were supportive. Unfortunately, while over 40% of nurses signed on in support, we did not reach that threshold and do not currently see a path there given the number of departments without active nurse organizers, so we are ending the campaign for an NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) election,” the announcement, which the alliance posted on Instagram and Facebook, stated.

The chief complaints of the union organizers are poor retention of nurses and inadequate staffing levels they say compromise patient safety and unduly burden nurses. Additionally, the lack of a transparent and competitive wage scale and insufficient health care benefits are points of contention.

Dartmouth Health officials welcomed the end of the union drive.

“I believe that the union’s decision to end its campaign was a positive development for DHMC, our nurses, our patients and the community,” DHMC Chief Nursing Officer Tracy A. Galvin said in an emailed statement Monday.

“Although I respect the right of every nurse to have his or her opinion about unionization, I have always believed that a direct working relationship provides the best environment for the teamwork and flexibility that is so essential to nursing,” Galvin continued.

Unless an employer chooses to recognize a union voluntarily, which Dartmouth Health has not done, labor organizers may either strike for recognition or petition the NLRB to hold an election. At least 30% of workers must sign cards expressing interest in joining the union to trigger an election.

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The DHMC nurses reached the 30% threshold in May, which marks the furthest progress of any unionization effort at the medical center, union organizers said at the time. Beginning in March, organizers hosted information tables inside and outside the medical center, arranged meetings in local hotel lobbies with union nurses from out-of-state hospitals, and conducted a social media campaign to raise awareness and garner support.

Support for unionization varied across departments within DHMC, which has 460 licensed beds, with near-unanimous support in some care units and no support at all in others, Katie Doody, an organizer with the Northeast Nurses Association said by phone Monday. The nurses wanted a strong enough majority to win an election decisively and bargain effectively for a contract, and did not feel that support was achievable, Doody said.

Sunday’s announcement also accused Dartmouth Health of illegal and underhanded behavior in its efforts to thwart unionizing efforts.

“Instead of respecting our right to organize without interference, DHMC spent approximately $2 million on anti-union consultants who illegally represented themselves as neutral educators or even impersonated federal Labor Board agents, spreading misinformation and fear,” the statement said.

Dartmouth Health declined to say how much it has paid Crossroads Consulting.

Shortly after the union drive went public in March, Dartmouth Health hired The Crossroads Group Labor Relations Consultants, of San Clemente, Calif., at a rate of $450 per hour plus expenses, according to a mandatory disclosure report filed by both parties in early April with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Firms such as Crossroads are commonly known as anti-union consultants. Brought in by employers to discourage pro-union sentiment, the consultants typically distribute written information and hold informational meetings, which employers sometimes require staff to attend.

DHMC nurses estimated in May that about 12 anti-union consultants were working in the hospital, based on the different people they have observed holding meetings with nurses, said Nela Hadzic, who as the regional organizing director for the Northeast Nurses Association assists health care workers in forming unions.

The nurses alliance has filed at least seven charges against Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center with the National Labor Relations Board, including coercion, surveillance, threats, retaliation and discipline, according to a Federal database of petitions and filings. If DHMC is found to have committed unfair labor practices, it could be forced to remedy the violations through monetary compensation.

Galvin pushed back against the allegations of impropriety in her email statement Monday.

“The union’s characterization of the education process is grossly inaccurate. It was essential to provide the nurses with factual information to help them make an informed choice on this topic, which is unfamiliar to many pe ople. To that end, we hired outside experts to assist us in educating the nurses on the process of unionization and their rights under federal law,” Galvin said.

DHMC nurses attempted unionization in 2008 and 2010, without advancing to the election stage. The last line of Sunday’s statement suggests that although this attempt did not succeed, it may not be the last union drive among Dartmouth Health employees.

“Our community of union nurses is still here and we can pick things back up if we ever need to,” the statement read.

Christina Dolan can be reached at cdolan@ vnews.com or 603-7 27-3208.