This month nurses at Seton Medical Center in Austin, Texas voted by a landslide to join National Nurses United (NNU), making Seton the first Catholic hospital in Texas with a union. With 72% in favor of the union, NNU will now represent some 800 nurses at the hospital, part of the Ascension Health chain, a network of Catholic healthcare providers. The two sides must now sit down to bargain a contract.
“This victory is just the beginning,” said Geovana Hill, a registered nurse in the renal unit. “As nurses, we always have and always will stand committed to providing the highest quality of care to our patients. We are looking forward to bargaining for a fair contract to improve patient safety, as well as competitive wages to keep Austin nurses working here in our community. We are more than ready to win a strong first contract, which will help with nursing staff retention.”
Catholic Social Teaching holds that while unions have an important role in securing just wages and benefits for workers, they can do much more. Pope Leo XIII, in his Encyclical Rerum Novarum, hoped that unions – like the medieval guilds – would serve to uphold quality standards in the workplace. This is nowhere more evident than in health care. Nursing unions frequently find themselves at loggerheads with managers over staffing levels, with the nurses speaking in support of better patient care facing off with administrators aiming to cut labor costs.
The Catholic Labor Network will monitor bargaining. We pray that both sides enter contract negotiations in good faith and that they settle on a just first contract without undue delay.