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NORMA RAE, R.N.

Nurses at St. John's Mercy Medical Center vote to unionize

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NORMA RAE, R.N.: The pizza parties didn't work. The fancied-up Christmas party didn't work. Even the personalized mass mailing on monogrammed stationery from chief nursing executive Chris Crain didn't work. On Saturday, nurses at St. John's Mercy Medical Center voted to unionize, and what was expected to be a close vote wound up 697-585, a margin of more than 100 nurses.

A front-page article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch trumpeted the St. John's nurses as "the first hospital-based nursing force in Missouri to join a union." In fact, they're not. Nurses at University Hospital in Columbia and the state Department of Mental Health hospitals are already represented by the Missouri Nurses Association. MONA is tiny and usually agreeable, though. The St. John's union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, will be harder to repress.

What's really new isn't the notion of unionizing but the large-scale crystallization of resolve as more and more nurses decide they can't trust hospital administrators to look out for their staff or the patients ("Internal Bleeding," RFT, April 28). Public discussions assume that the villain of this piece is "managed care," but if you talk to the nurses at any length, you notice that their gaze is trained on recent profit-obsessed management decisions that have made it harder to provide deft, compassionate nursing care.

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