Traditionally, public opinion and worker sentiment made labor organizing an uphill struggle in Florida, but 2011 saw a significant increase in the numbers of newly-unionized healthcare workers. The gains were made by two unions in particular: (1) National Nurses United (NNU) reported that it enrolled 5,000 Florida nurses during 2011; and (2) the Florida chapter of the Service Employees International Union, known as 1199 SEIU, reported that it unionized 18 new Florida hospitals, gaining more than 6,000 new members in the past year.
Both NNU and SEIU reached private agreements with major national hospital systems, including Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) and Tenet Healthcare, which required the employers to remain neutral with respect to union organizing at some of their Florida hospitals in return for NNU and SEIU leaving other facilities alone. The use of so-called “election procedure agreements” specified limited duration organizing and deadlines for the unions to file for NLRB elections. As a direct result of organizing wins by NNU and SEIU in the last 12 months, at least 33,000 of Florida’s 730,000 health workers are now organized.
The 2011 organizing season ended for SEIU with its represented employees ratifying separate contracts with 19 Florida hospitals affiliated with HCA. According to SEIU, six of the contracts are renewals of existing four-year agreements that expired earlier in 2011 and the remainder were new, first-time contracts at hospitals that SEIU organized over the prior year. For both SEIU and NNU, the sudden increase in organizing wins at Florida hospitals follows a significant shift in strategy that shows little indication of changing in 2012.
Following its Florida organizing wins, SEIU implemented another strategy shift by starting collective bargaining negotiations for different regions rather than at individual hospitals. SEIU negotiated with 19 HCA-owned hospitals based on two geographic divisions: one set of negotiations covered hospitals located on Florida’s east coast and another set included hospitals on Florida’s west coast and central region. According to SEIU’s regional director, employees at all the newly organized hospitals will receive across-the-board wage increases of 2.5% instead of the prior system of merit-based pay.
It remains an open question whether NNU and SEIU will be able to carry their 2011 successful surge in organizing into 2012. With the support of an aggressively pro-worker NLRB, it is nearly certain that unions will be looking at every opportunity to bring organizing pressure on Florida healthcare employers.
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