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Mission nurses ratify first union contract, taking 'big step forward,' supporters say

Large crowd shows up for nurses demonstration in front of Mission Hospital
TUESDAY, JUNE 15, 2021 - Demonstrators gathered in front of Mission Hospital in Asheville to express concerns about safe staffing and improvements they say the hospital needs to retain and recruit experienced registered nurses. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

Registered nurses at Mission Hospital voted to ratify their first ever union contract in what's being called "A big step forward for patient safety, recruitment/retention."

In a press release, National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU) explains the new three-year contract will provide Mission RN's wage increases of up to 7% in the first year and up to 17% total, "based on years of experience, over the life of the agreement, which includes a grid guaranteeing regular increases."

“Our new contract is a huge step forward for nurses, patients, and our entire community,” said Sue Fischer, a Mission RN and a member of the bargaining team, in the most recent press release.

NNU says safe staffing and health and safety protocols were a top priority for the nurses who voted Thursday and Friday and that "substantial gains were made throughout the contract."

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NNU's media release provided the following details of the ratified contract:

  • Patient care protections, including the formation of Professional Practice Committee comprised of a dozen union RNs to review patient care conditions and make recommendations for improvement at the hospital, and a separate staffing committee with equal participation of union nurses and management to review hospital staffing levels, with approval by the committee for any changes in staffing patterns.
  • Guaranteed meal and rest breaks to ensure RNs can take needed breaks, and a ban on mandatory overtime, both critical to avoid fatigue that can lead to medical errors.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing, including the requirement that the hospital will provide proper PPE for nurses that meets the strictest federal, state, and local guidelines, and guaranteed HIV and Covid-19 testing for nurses at no cost following an exposure.
  • Workplace violence prevention, including a hospital behavioral response team with added security for workplace violence prevention, with additional violence prevention training for nurses.
  • Patient handling lift teams and training to reduce musculoskeletal and other injuries to nurses, a major cause of nurse injuries typically linked to ambulating heavier patients.
  • Protections against unsafe floating – Unsafe floating is the management practice of assigning nurses to units for which they do not have the clinical expertise or training. The contract limits unsafe floating and ensures that the hospital cannot float nurses from an assignment that leaves their home unit short staffed.

Mission RN Amy Waters tells News 13 the biggest victory in the contract is improving quality of care.

"The main reason we did form this union was to improve patient care and I feel like we finally feel like we've been heard, nd that we will have a say in how our patients are cared for," Waters said.

“We are proud of this agreement,” said Mission RN Kelly Graham in the release. “It is a testament to the unity of the Mission nurses, and to the phenomenal support we have received from our neighbors, elected leaders, clergy, and friends across the greater Asheville community. Our pledge to all of you is to ensure that you receive the highest standard of care when you are sick, injured, and in need of therapeutic, healing hospital care.”

NNU's release provided the following additional provisions in the contract as well:

  • A hospital committee to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion on race, gender, age and sexual orientation in hospital recruitment, retention, promotion, and training.
  • Limits on the ability of the hospital administration to make cuts in nurses’ health coverage.
  • Just cause protections, including grievance procedures for discipline and hospital harassment.
  • Seniority protection for long-term nurses in layoffs, recall, filling of vacancies, and transfers.
  • Additional pay for nurses who work nights, evenings, weekends, overtime, when transporting patients, and when called in for needed additional shifts.
  • Paid time off to vote in elections.

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Nancy Lindell, a Mission Hospital spokesperson, released the following statement on July 1 about the agreement, prior to its ratification:

Mission Hospital is pleased to report that a comprehensive agreement has been reached with the union and is now subject to the union’s ratification process. Throughout these negotiations Mission Hospital, our nurses, and our entire care team diligently focused, as always, on providing quality patient care to the communities we serve. We look forward to the contract being ratified and continuing to compassionately caring for the people of western North Carolina.

National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC)-North Carolina, an affiliate of National Nurses United (NNU), represents 1,800 RNs at Mission. The Mission nurses voted last September to join the union.

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