HOUSTON – Nurses at Tenet Healthcare, owned by Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center Hospital, voted March 28 to organize and form a union with the California Nurses Association. The hospital is located in northwest Houston and employs 275 registered nurses.

The primary focus of the organizing campaign was patient care with the goal of improving nurse-to-patient ratios. Hospitals, similar to all industries, have been under pressure to increase profits and have been following in the footsteps of other enterprises by reducing staff. This has resulted in dangerous staff-to-patient ratios which put patients’ lives at risk and nurse’s licenses in jeopardy.

Nurses also want guaranteed wage increases, higher on-call pay and a pension plan, in addition to the hospital’s 401k program.

There are 29,000 licensed RNs in Harris County, which includes this city.

Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller said, in a statement, “We are elated. The decision of registered nurses to organize at Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center Hospital sends a message of hope to highly skilled workers across the state who can benefit greatly from the workplace rights only a union can deliver.”

She continued, “Too many nurses have seen their workplace conditions, right to overtime, right to organize and even the ability to practice their profession as they were taught attacked by politicians and bureaucrats. The National Nurses Organizing Committee’s decision to organize registered nurses at a private hospital in new and unfriendly territory has paid off and we hope it leads to many more successes for nurses across the state. The vote shows that despite exceptionally difficult conditions for organizing in any so-called ‘right to work’ state, it can be done in Texas.”

The AFL-CIO blog recorded the following reactions.

Josie Jupio, an RN at the hospital, rejoiced, “Finally our voice will be heard. This victory of the nurses’ unity will bring a change for the better, impacting patient care, improving the benefits and assuring an open door policy that is fair to all.”

Juanita Reyes, RN, of Cypress Fairbanks Hospital, declared, “Union means unity for the good of all, especially our patients who are the cause we are here for.”

Chris Williams, RN noted that the election came just one week before the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and points out the civil rights movement and the union movement are the nation’s “two most progressive movements. We nurses at CyFair will try to expand upon Dr. King’s vision with respect to patient care in Texas.”

The Houston Chronicle quoted E. Dale Wortham, president of the Harris County AFL-CIO and board member of the Harris County Hospital District as saying, “I can tell you the Texas Medical Center and all the member institutions are as nervous as house cats in a room full of rocking chairs.”

The house cats are also jittery in Dallas, according to an article in the Dallas Morning News. Tenet Healthcare is based in Dallas and the expectation is that the organizing effort will quickly spread to northern Texas.

The California Nurses Association has already contacted Parkland Hospital and requested contact information for the hospital’s 2,500 nurses. Managers swiftly held “informational meetings” with nurses about the union.

Tenet’s 2007 annual report indicates that 22 percent of its employees already have formed unions, primarily in California and Florida. The report also states, “We, and the hospital industry in general, are continuing to see an increase in the amount of union activity across the country.” Nurses and health care consumers hope this is just the beginning.