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Erlanger Hospital Nurse Starts Effort To Unionize Chattanooga Hospital

Published Friday, June 19, 2020
by Dave Flessner & Elizabeth Fite/The Chattanooga Times Free Press
Erlanger Hospital Nurse Starts Effort To Unionize Chattanooga Hospital

(CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE) - Jeff Holland, a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)  at Erlanger for the past three years, said the COVID-19 Pandemic and its impact on Staff has "created an environment where Employees are working in fear and intimidation for their jobs."

Holland said Nurses are being asked to care for more patients even while the hospital has cut some benefits for Nurses and other Staff and dismissed some Nurses unwilling to take on the bigger patient loads.

Studies show an understaffed and overworked Nursing Force decreases hospital efficiency and increases the risk of medical errors.

"Erlanger Hospital ‘has created the perfect textbook conditions to validate the need for a Union to protect its Employees’ rights and benefits and in order to provide safer conditions for its patients in regards to Nurse/patient ratios,’" he said.

A Facebook Page Holland created on June 1st to rally Nurses to support the Unionization effort, known as Erlanger Pro Union, has already got nearly 400 followers.

Before the pandemic, Erlanger and Chattanooga's other Acute-Care Hospitals struggled to recruit Nurses - a problem seen across the country as many Nurses leave the hospital bedside in favor of lower stress, higher paying jobs with better hours.

The need is greatest for Registered Hospital Bedside Nurses, often called Medical-Surgical Nurses who care for sick and recovering adult patients.

As a safety net hospital, Erlanger already operates on thin margins.  Then, when COVID-19 struck, officials estimated the hospital lost $35 million in net patient revenue during April due to temporarily suspending elective procedures, decreases in admissions and other Coronavirus-related expenses.

As a result, the hospital enacted a "Temporary Expense Reduction Plan" in March by furloughing some Administrative Employees, cutting leadership pay, reducing overtime, suspending vacation accruals, suspending job recruitment for administrative positions and suspending retirement contributions by the company.  And, Erlanger laid off 11 non-clinical executives.

Holland said he has never previously belonged to a Labor Union and is still talking with different Unions, including National Nurses United (NNU) and the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 175, about helping with any organizing campaign.

Holland sent a letter to Erlanger management last week outlining his concerns and telling about his Union Organizing Efforts, which helps protect him from being fired for his organizing efforts.

In his letter to Erlanger management, Holland contends hospital officials "seem to be concerned only with making or saving money (even if it's at the expense of those working on the frontlines) and lording control over the Staff."

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