McLean nurses and clinicians vote as a union following bitterly contested campaign

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Following a contentious union campaign that drew fierce resistance from McLean Hospital management, nurses and other clinicians at world-renowned Belmont Psychiatric Hospital voted to join AFSCME Council 93.

The results of two elections, announced on Friday, were close. Registered nurses, nurse practitioners and clinical coordinators voted 113 to 100 in favor of the union, and mental health specialists and community residence counselors endorsed the union 121 to 91. About 60 ballots were cast. disputed, but Council 93 expects the victories – representing more than 700 workers in total – to stand.

“We faced strong and well-documented opposition from management, but these dedicated medical professionals had the courage to endure the battle,” said Mark Bernard, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 93, in a statement. “In doing so, they have laid a solid foundation to improve patient care, create a safer workplace and build a better economic future for themselves and their families.”

McLean Hospital, which opened in 1818 as the Charlestown Insane Asylum and is part of Mass General Brigham, is the state’s busiest psychiatric hospital. If the National Labor Relations Board certifies the election after resolving disputed ballots, hospital officials said, it will negotiate in good faith with the union.

“McLean Hospital respects the decision of our staff in this election,” Scott Rauch, president and chief psychiatrist, said in a statement. “We remain committed to supporting the professional growth and success of each member of our staff and to ensuring access to high quality mental health care in a safe environment. As we look to the future, we look forward to continuing our vital work together as one team to achieve our collective mission to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness.

Among the workers’ demands are increased staffing levels, reduced turnover, increased wages and the resolution of mandates requiring workers to stay late to cover understaffed shifts. Employees also want to restore five sick days and regain the ability to carry over accrued paid time off, both of which were eliminated during the pandemic.

The 700 nurses and clinicians will join approximately 145 research and laboratory assistants at the hospital who voted to join AFSCME Council 93 last summer. In Mass General Brigham, nurses are organized at a number of hospitals, including Brigham and Women’s, but the union is not aware of any other unionized research staff, mental health specialists or community residence counselors. in the system.

McLean executives have launched an aggressive campaign to dissuade employees from voting yes, according to employees and the union. They paid five ‘union-busting’ companies between $350 and $425 an hour, plus meals, mileage and other expenses to hold more than 100 ‘captive audience’ meetings to deter employees from supporting the effort . A consultant, Michael Penn, was paid $37,384 between September and December, according to a report filed with the US Department of Labor.

Management has also sent a steady stream of messages about how the union might restrict pay increases and flexibility. And they raised questions about the fate of the hospital’s newly organized research and lab assistants, noting that clinicians should wait to see what happens in those contract negotiations “before signing a union card and getting involved.” expose them to the risks of collective bargaining”. The union has filed charges with the NLRB regarding two members of the organizing committee who were fired for what it believes to be protected union activity.

“Instead of engaging with us and letting their employees make up their own mind, they have spent a lot of money, tens of thousands, if not more, to create a culture of fear and misinformation,” said Eddie Nastari, director of field services and organizing for the union.

The hospital’s actions had a “chilling effect”, prompting some workers to stop publicly supporting the union, added John Killoy, deputy director of legislation, communications and political action.

McLean previously told the Globe that it is the hospital’s responsibility to give employees all the facts about union membership and that patients benefit when caregivers work directly with managers rather than through a third.

The opposition continued until the end, nurse Devin Fratus said. Union-busting leaflets and flyers covering the walls of the break room detailed “scare tactics” such as the possibility of a strike and AFSCME’s lack of experience in representing healthcare workers. The hospital also sent emails warning employees that the union could undermine workplace culture and cause divisions between clinicians and managers, Fratus said; one contained a video of unit chiefs talking about bad experiences they had had with unions in the past.

Fratus, a member of the nurses’ organizing committee, said workers’ reaction to the vote ranged from “over the moon” to pessimistic that something was actually going to change. But most people he spoke to over the weekend agreed that having a voice was a step in the right direction.

“The common feeling from almost everyone was, no matter how big or how little change,” he said, “it’s good to have a seat at the table and for the hospital to have a responsibility now.”


Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.

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