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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Nurses announce efforts to form union at GW Hospital after staffing, working condition concerns

Lydia Embry | Photographer
Mayor Muriel Bowser announced last year that the GW Hospital would expand to Southeast D.C. and hold up to 196 beds beginning in fall 2024.

Nurses at GW Hospital announced efforts to form a union represented by the D.C. Nurses Association in a release Friday.

The release states that nurses unionized with DCNA – a professional organization for nurses –  to form a more “constructive” partnership with GW Hospital officials after their previous repeated attempts to work directly with leadership to address the hospital’s lack of staffing and training failed to bring “lasting systemic improvements.” Edward Smith, DCNA’s executive director, said nurses hope to work with officials to create a “collective voice” before a union election and formal contract negotiations begin.

Smith said over the last few years, nurses have brought their concerns about inadequate staffing and poor working conditions to GW Hospital officials, who responded with “very little” interaction, sparking the unionization effort. He said the push to unionize has been in the works for the past “few months” after nurses from the hospital approached DCNA for assistance with their efforts.

He said understaffing is forcing nurses to take more shifts where they oversee more patients than they should, which has a “direct correlation” with the quality of patient care. Nurses are also struggling with retention and have expressed a need for additional ancillary staff, who the hospital can task with jobs like cleaning rooms or answering phones, Smith said.

The unionizing effort at GW Hospital, which employs about 750 registered nurses, is one of DCNA’s largest in “recent memory,” according to DCist.

“We know this is a prominent hospital serving D.C. and we want to be part of that,” Smith said. “But we also need to have a hospital leadership that values the input of the nurses and treats the patients and the nurses with the dignity they deserve.”

A GW Hospital spokesperson said the hospital acknowledges the nurses have a federal right to unionize, but continuing to be a union-free hospital will keep a “direct” relationship between nurses and hospital officials. They said in a union-free environment, the hospital officials can provide “flexibility” and “individual empowerment” for the nurses.

“Such a significant decision should be an informed choice based on the facts about unionization,” the spokesperson said in an email. “We welcome this opportunity to share information and engage in substantive discussions with our nurses on this issue.”

Universal Health Services, a for-profit hospital and health care provider, outright owns GW Hospital after the University sold its 20 percent share of the hospital to the company for $50 million last May, a move that left the Medical Faculty Associates and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences as the only clinical enterprises at GW. Smith said MFA-affiliated nurses, who are employed by GW and not UHS, will not be included in union organizing efforts because they’re employed by a separate entity.

Smith said UHS is a “well-known,” anti-union employer and has shown “knee-jerk” opposition to the campaign. Unionizing efforts at other UHS-owned facilities have failed, including The Meadows Psychiatric Center in Pennsylvania, Inland Valley and Rancho Springs hospitals in California and Desert Springs hospital in Nevada.

“It’s not a surprise that one of the largest for-profit health care employers in the country would fight the union,” Smith said.

Smith said GW Hospital nurses were aware of DCNA’s previous work representing Howard University Hospital employees during “tough negotiations” and a one-day strike in April 2022, as well as their organizing efforts in California, Minnesota and the United Kingdom.

He said UHS has represented a “bad actor” in previous interactions with separate hospital union organizers, like non-medical hospital staff in 2018.

The 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East previously represented GW Hospital workers until 2018, when GW Hospital officials withdrew recognition of the union, triggering oversight from the National Labor Relations Board, a government agency that enforces labor laws. The NLRB was positioned in September to reconsider if GW Hospital violated fair labor practices in 2022.

In February 2018, GW withdrew recognition of a union contract drafted by the Service Employees International Union – which represents dietary and maintenance workers at the hospital. SEIU representatives said GW Hospital officials brought in an anti-union lawyer and threatened to halt the process of taking union dues out of workers’ paychecks in 2018.

“I think it would help them in the future to strengthen the hospital, to strengthen nursing, the staffing issues, to work together to try to improve that rather than spend millions of dollars in fighting us in organizing,” Smith said.

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About the Contributor
Grace Chinowsky, Senior News Editor
Grace Chinowsky is a junior majoring in journalism and mass communication from Seattle, Washington. She leads the News section as The Hatchet's 2023-2024 senior news editor, and previously served as the assistant news editor for the Metro beat.
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