“Everything in this campaign boiled down to nurses’ concern over quality patient care.” Peg Coon, RN at FAHC, 2002.
In October of 2002, by an overwhelming majority of 2 to 1, the Registered Nurses of Fletcher Allen Health Care (FAHC) voted to form a union, the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (VFNHP), Local 5221, UP/AFT, AFL-CIO.
The culmination of over a year of tenacious work and courageous organizing, nurses at FAHC won a critical battle for patients and their healthcare providers that would improve standards of patient care, work to secure a healthy and safe working environment, and establish equitable wages and benefits for front-line healthcare workers.
On and off since the late 1980’s, nurses and healthcare professionals at Fletcher Allen sought to build the commitment and momentum necessary to form a union. In what was an increasingly challenging work environment fraught with acrimony, unfairness and inequality, our nurses continually struggled with preventable staff shortages, downsizing, micro-management, devastating cost-cutting measures, unfair firing practices and anti-union bullying. We were committed to righting these wrongs and securing a better working environment for all of us, and with a resounding 2 to 1 vote, we formed our union in 2002.
Our Community Supports Us
That victory represented the unwavering commitment and perseverance of countless healthcare professionals, allies and supporters, including the virtually unprecedented support of more than 80 political and religious leaders, and innumerable community members from across the state.
What began with a small group of passionate nurses meeting, organizing and strategizing for change, culminated in a movement of heroic proportions, and the beginning of real and lasting change.
Let the Bargaining Begin!
With a secure seat at the table, we began bargaining in earnest in December 2002 for a new, more equitable contract [MC1], one that addressed issues of nurse-to-patient ratios, stagnant wages, floating, retention and more. More than 90% of us signed a petition saying we would strike if we couldn’t reach an agreement with management, and in July of 2003, we signed our first union contract with FAHC!
That contract was heralded as “one of the best first contracts in healthcare in the country,” and marked the beginning of what would be a series of groundbreaking negotiations on behalf of our members.
LPNs and Technical Professionals Join the Union
In 2003, the Licensed Practical Nurses voted to join our union, and in 2006 we negotiated one contract for both bargaining units. In 2009, seeing the indisputable benefits of union representation, a group of over 300 Technical Professionals voted to join our union as well, bringing the union’s membership at FAHC to over 2,000 healthcare professionals.
In the succeeding years, as equal parties with management at the bargaining table, we have been able to build previously unattainable rights and protections into contracts that have directly benefited patients and employees, including improved patient outcomes and enhanced workplace satisfaction.
Putting Patients First!
In 2012, inspired by the Vermont Workers’ Center “Put People First” campaign, we officially launched our Put Patients First campaign. Together with the Vermont Workers’ Center, whose “Health Care is a Human Right” campaign has built a groundswell of support for a universal health care system in Vermont, we set forth a clear and ambitious agenda to push for legislation that would ensure safe staffing ratios for dialysis patients, expand the admitting and signature privileges of nurse practitioners, allow child-care workers to bargain collectively and clarify a mandate that health insurance companies cover midwife services.
“Vermont needs a strong universal health care system for all people. It needs a strong and visionary community academic medical center, not a for profit organization that happens to be in the business of health care.” – Mari Cordes, President VFNHP
We are actively working every day to build upon past achievements, further improve conditions for our members and patients, guide policy, advocate reforms and maintain the highest levels of care and professionalism across our healthcare community, and for our community at large.
The launch of our Put Patients First Campaign marks just the beginning of a long journey towards universality, full access and dramatically improved outcomes for everybody.