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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

DHMC nurses begin organizing to unionize

The nurses are responding to a lack of support from hospital leadership and high turnover rates at DHMC.

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Nurses at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center are organizing to unionize, according to Service Employees International Union, Local 560 president Chris Peck. If organized, the union would negotiate for job security, healthcare and higher wages.

The nurses are organizing due to “burnout,” “lack of respect” and “lack of support,” as well as high turnover rates, according to a longtime nurse who requested anonymity due to fear of repercussions.

“There’s no mentorship,” the nurse said. “You’re there as an ant in the anthill, to do a job. If you’re not happy or you’re burnt out, move on and we’ll replace you with somebody new.”  

Nurses have been meeting around four times a week to gather signatures in support of unionization — after which they will be able to petition the National Labor Relations Board for a vote on union recognition, the nurse said. If a unionization vote is held and is successful, the nurses will join an international nurses group, Peck — who helped Dartmouth’s men’s basketball team unionize last month — said.

According to Peck, the nurses have to identify everyone who would potentially qualify under their union — a difficult task at a large organization like DHMC, which has more than 8,000 employees, according to its website. In a potential vote, the group needs a majority to support unionization — but Peck said they should aim for around 70%. 

Unionization efforts were an “underground movement” until nurses started to distribute fliers in early March, according to the nurse. When the nurses who were organizing the unionization went public, other DHMC nurses were “immediately interested,” she said. 

Chief nursing officer Tracy Galvin wrote in an email statement to The Dartmouth that the hospital “respects the legal right of our nurses to decide whether or not they want union representation.” 

“We have long believed that a union is not necessary and could be counterproductive to the kind of two-way dialogue that is so much a part of our culture at DHMC,” Galvin wrote. “This open and collaborative dialogue is vital to our role as an academic health system that promotes education, research, outstanding patient care and positive employer-employee relations to ensure high-quality patient care and service.”

According to the Valley News, DHMC CEO Joanne Conroy wrote in an email to the DHMC community in March that unionization “can often result in an ‘us versus them’ mentality.”

The nurse said most of her colleagues had felt a disconnect with higher-ups. She rejected Galvin’s idea that unionization would prevent open dialogue, saying that nurses currently “[do] not have a voice at the table.” 

“That wedge is already there,” she said. “The nurses’ dissatisfaction is nothing new. There was not a single nurse in that building who was shocked to hear that there was an active union movement.”

The nurse said high turnover rates at DHMC and a lack of connection between nurses and hospital staff have probably impacted the quality of care at DHMC. In February, DHMC warned patients about long wait times in the emergency department, according to the Valley News. 

“When you have that much turnover, there is no way that the quality of nursing care is not impacted,” she said. 

This is not the first time that DHMC nurses have tried to unionize, according to Peck. In 2008 and 2010, the Massachusetts Nursing Association tried, to no avail, to set up an office inside DHMC or at another location in the Upper Valley, according to the Valley News. 

“Different groups have tried to organize the unions up there at different times, and it’s overdue,” Peck said. 

The nurse said she is confident in the success of the current unionization effort. 

“I can’t believe it’s taken this long,” she said.