Norwich — Registered nurses at The William W. Backus Hospital voted 210-175 to join AFT Connecticut, which represents the majority of the state's unionized hospital employees, including those at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London.
The result was released late Wednesday by National Labor Relations Board officials who oversaw the vote, which took place over eight hours in a room at the hospital. About 425 registered nurses were eligible to vote in the Backus election.
After the vote, about 20 nurses gathered outside, cheering and laughing.
Katherine Palmer, a nurse in the recovery room for the past seven years, said it came down to what's taken place in the past 12 months. "Management has taken so much away from us in the last year," she said. "They've cut our benefits, our vacation time and our staffing. It's stressful to be at work when we're as busy as we are."
Angela Shirey, who also supported the union, also pointed to staffing and benefit cuts and other cost-cutting measures throughout the hospital.
"Ultimately it's about the patients," said Shirey, a nurse in the maternity ward for 20 years. "We want our staffing to be up. We don't feel the administration is supporting us in that way."
Claudette Faucher-Charles, a nurse in the critical care unit for the past four years, disagreed and, earlier in the evening, predicted that the vote would be close.
"They have some legitimate concerns," she said of the nurses who back the union. "I don't need a union because I feel I've got a wonderful chain of communication through my (unit) director."
The vote caps an organizing effort by the union that began this winter, following by a few months the establishment of a union for security guards and other support staff, the first union in Backus' 117-year history. The nurses' organizing exposed strife between the hospital administration and the nurses over less generous benefits, raise policies, sick and vacation time policies, staffing levels and other cost-cutting moves hospital leaders say were necessary to position the hospital for changes ahead in health care.