St. Mary’s nurses seek union

AMSTERDAM – Holding signs stating “Put Patients First,” “Kids & Parents Support St. Mary’s Nurses” and “Sheet Metal Workers Support Nurses,” more than 30 people, including nurses from St. Mary’s Hospital, gathered Wednesday to draw attention to the nurses’ unionization effort at the hospital.

Earlier in the morning, nurses presented Vic Giulianelli, president and chief executive officer of St. Mary’s Healthcare, a petition asking for the hospital to voluntarily recognize a union formed with the New York State Nurses Association.

Tara Martin of the New York State Nurses Association said after management declined to recognize the union, the nurses filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to allow a secret ballot on unionization.

Martin said most of nurses at St. Mary’s have signed union authorization cards.

The New York State Nurses Association says inadequate staffing, unilateral changes that have damaged morale and a lack of hospital respect for the nurses’ voice in patient care are reasons for the unionization effort.

Martin said the nurses are complaining about high patient-to-staff ratios and eroding benefits.

Jerri Cortese, director of community relations for St. Mary’s Healthcare, said in an email the hospital would not give voluntary recognition because federal labor law establishes a democratic process for employees to decide if they want a union.

Cortese wrote the only appropriate way for deciding on the issue is through an NLRB election.

Cortese said no workers currently are unionized at St. Mary’s.

“We understand that our associates have the right to organize or not to organize, and St. Mary’s will respect their decision,” Cortese wrote. “We hope that the majority of registered nurses will choose to preserve the direct working relationship between them and St. Mary’s that has served our patients and our community so well. We will continue to have ongoing dialogue directly with our associates to present them with factual information to help them make an informed decision.”

Surgical nurse Cyndi Gendron said she has seen detrimental changes to patient care during her 24 years as a nurse.

“Recent events have led to a lot of us discussing the future of care at St. Mary’s and the best way for nurses to stand up for our patients and for ourselves,” Gendron said. “We’ve seen a lot of changes, some of which have been detrimental to patient care and damaging to our profession. The future of St. Mary’s should be decided by all the stakeholders here, including the community and their caregivers.”

In a letter to the group, state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, said he supports the nurses’ unionization effort.

“I hope you will respect their wishes and allow them to negotiate on relevant issues as a collective-bargaining unit,” Santabarbara wrote.

Martin said the next step is to wait for the NLRB to set up a date for a secret ballot. Martin said that may happen within the next two weeks.

Kerry Minor can be reached at