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, AFT-Vermont, 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 health 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 committed to righting these wrongs and securing a better working environment. With a resounding 2 to 1 vote, we formed our union in 2002. 'Everything in this campaign boiled down to nurses’ concern over quality patient care.'
'Everything in this campaign boiled down to nurses’ concern over quality patient care.'
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.
Let the Bargaining Begin
With a secure seat at the table and led by our new President, Jennifer Henry, we began bargaining in earnest in December 2002 for a new, more equitable contract, one that addressed issues of nurse-to-patient ratios, stagnant wages, floating, retention and more. 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 Our 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.
Porter Nurses Join Our Union
After an arduous organizing drive involving one of the most notorious union busting firms in the country, Porter Nurses won their vote and joined VFNHP. Their union win was certified by the National Labor Relations Board on November 20th, 2013.
Putting Patients First!
On the first day of the Legislative session in 2012, inspired by the Vermont Workers' Center Put People First campaign, we officially launched our Put Patients First campaign. Working with the Vermont Workers' Center since the outset of the "Health Care is a Human Right" campaign which has built a groundswell of support for a universal health care system in Vermont, we also worked with legislators to introduce bills that would ensure safe staffing ratios for dialysis patients, expand the admitting and signature privileges of nurse practitioners, eliminate insurance discrimination based on gender identity, and ensure patient and worker safety through safe patient handling programs and a ban on mandatory overtime for healthcare workers across the state (VFNHP members have that benefit in our contract).
Strength in Numbers
In early 2013, the National Federation of Nurses and its delegate chapters representing 34,000 nurses in Oregon, Montana, Washington and Ohio, affiliated with the AFT, whose 1.5 million members include more than 48,000 nurses and thousands of other healthcare professionals. The Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals is therefore now affiliated with over 100,000 nurses and healthcare professionals nationwide who make up the healthcare division of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Our AFT state federation is AFT-Vermont, which represents over 3,000 healthcare workers and educators throughout the state.
AFT Healthcare was formed in 1978 when the AFT’s constitution was amended to allow organizing and affiliation of healthcare workers. AFT Healthcare is made up of 95 locals in 17 states and one territory (Guam). The division’s membership includes approximately 15,000 school nurses—or one in every three school nurses in the country. While nearly half the members of AFT Healthcare are registered nurses, the division also represents medical researchers, physicians, dieticians, psychologists, medical technicians, therapists and others. AFT Healthcare is currently the second largest union representing nurses and healthcare professionals in the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations).
VFNHP continues to campaign and organize on behalf of our members and other healthcare workers in the state for fundamental rights, protections and benefits essential in delivering outstanding healthcare, improving recruitment, achieving long-term retention, and building a better, more equitable workplace for all.
'Our strength is in our ability to give our members a strong voice on the issues that affect our patients, our workplace and our profession.'
Mari Cordes, RN, President VFNHP, Local 5221