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Saint Louis University Hospital nurses vote to support union in dues dispute

369 members of the nurse's union at St. Louis University Hospital participated in the vote throughout the day Monday.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 10 a.m. June 16

Members of a nurse’s union at Saint Louis University Hospital voted against de-authorizing their union late Monday, a measure that would have effectively created a “right-to-work” policy within the hospital.  

The National Nurses United affiliate has about 650 members at SLU Hospital; only 140 voted in favor of de-authorization during three scheduled voting periods throughout the day. The measure needed 326 votes to pass, which would have made the payment of union dues optional.  

Original story, published 06/16/15: Unionized nurses are voting over whether or not to de-authorize their chapter at Saint Louis University Hospital, which would make their union dues optional. Results are expected late Monday evening.

In the meantime, the union is in negotiations with SSM Health over a new contract, as SSM prepares to take over the hospital from Texas-based Tenet Healthcare Corporation.    

SLU Hospital registered nurse Brian Hendricks initiated the de-authorization vote after filing a petition to the National Labor Relations Board. De-authorization petitions require signatures from 30 percent of a union’s membership before an election can be held.

A view of St. Louis University Hospital in early spring.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
A view of St. Louis University Hospital in early spring.

Hendricks, a nurse who works in the cardiac intensive care unit of the hospital, said he believes the union did not represent his colleagues well in contract negotiations. In 2013, the Missouri affiliate of National Nurses United negotiated a three-year contract with Tenet for 650 nurses at SLU Hospital.

“We wanted better nurse-patient ratios. We do not have those. We wanted a better increase in our salary. We did not receive that. We wanted better retirement. We did not receive that,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks, who has worked for the hospital since 1989, listed multiple concerns over how National Nurses United established the SLU Hospital union, how their contract was negotiated, and how the contract vote was conducted.

Members of National Nurses United were not immediately available for comment Monday. Brian Glenn, who has been a SLU Hospital  nurse for five years, said he believed patient ratios had improved. 

"I feel the union has helped our facility, helped our nurses, and helped our patients," Glenn said.  "I think it's only fair to pay union dues for their representation." 

Last year, Hendricks filed a complaint over union dues with the National Labor Relations Board.That was dismissed. Those dues are approximately 1.4 percent of a nurse's salary. That's nearly half of the wage increase the union negotiated, Hendricks said.
“We think they’re still doing a bad job, and we have this ability to stop the union dues and say, 'We still have a contract with you for one year.' Now, the new owners go out and do a better job. Go out and negotiate a better contract,” Hendricks said.
SLU Hospital and Des Peres Hospital, which is also owned by Tenet, are the only hospitals in the St. Louis region with unionized nurses. With SSM Health set to take over ownership of the hospital in the coming months, a new contract will likely be negotiated. 

“We respect that some Saint Louis University Hospital employees are represented by a union. We value the employees at SLU Hospital and at this time we are reaching out to those unions to ensure that exceptional care continues to be delivered,” a spokesperson for SSM Health said in a statement. 

Leslie Dinkins, a nurse who has worked for the hospital for two years, said she voted against de-authorization. 

"I think it's kind of sad. Nursing should be a profession where we stand together," Dinkins said. 

Follow Durrie on Twitter for more health and science news from St. Louis: @durrieB

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