There were hugs, cheers and smiles all around the night that the votes were counted, and registered nurses with St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, Idaho, found out they were officially Teamsters.
On that night of April 11, the previous months of teamwork had paid off. The nurses voted overwhelmingly to join Teamsters Local 690 in nearby Spokane, Washington.
Brandi Fiorino has worked at St. Joseph for 17 years, the past eight years as a registered nurse.
During their campaign to organize, she and her co-workers were faced with mandatory hospital meetings and fliers discouraging them from forming their union with the Teamsters.
“One flier said the Teamsters Union would be a bad choice for us because Teamsters are truckers,” Fiorino said.
The nurses were prepared, having already discussed as a group with Teamster representatives about what to expect and how management might try to dissuade them from becoming Teamsters.
Rather than look negatively at the fact that the Teamsters Union has many members in transportation, the nurses turned management’s negative into a positive by embracing the union’s diverse membership, which happens to include thousands of health care workers in addition to truck drivers.
During the holidays, the various hospital departments have a tradition of decorating trees or wreaths, which are then auctioned off as a fundraiser. The nurses in the Emergency Room decorated their tree with a truck driver theme. It included truck driver hats and truck decorations, and won the prize for raising the most money for the fundraiser.
“We got the idea to make these hats that say, ‘Keep on Truckin’ and made 50 of them to give out,” Fiorino said. “Everyone wears scrubs at work, but on ‘Teamster Tuesdays’ we wore our Teamster shirts to and from work that said ‘Nurses Rights: Right time, right place, right union,’ and we wore bracelets that said ‘Organize’.”
Fiorino is pictured here with Nina Bugbee, Director of the Teamsters Health Care Division, who provided the full resources and support of the union to the nurses in Lewiston as they organized.
Fiorino also credits the support of Local 690 and Teamster organizers, and the unity of her co-workers, in their successful effort to join the union. Local 690 also represents nurses in Sandpoint, Idaho.
“We have great nurses who are strong employees and leaders. When you hire good nurses because you provide good pay and patient ratios, that gives security to the patients as well as the nurses. We are the patients’ advocates and being Teamsters gives us a great platform to be able to advocate,” Fiorino said.
St. Joseph was sold two years ago, making it a for-profit hospital for the first time in its more than 100-year history.
“As health care operations are bought out by corporations, this provides an opportunity for unions to increasingly enter the health care world to keep patients safe and stand up for health care workers, including nurses like us,” Fiorino said.