October 11, 2019 / Modified oct 11, 2019 4:43 p.m.

Tucson nurses strike; Phoenix reporters vote to unionize

A look at the role of unions in Arizona.

Arizona 360 spoke to registered nurse and union member Christine Valenzuela about her support for unions and a desire to see their reach expand, after Arizona’s first nurse’s union staged a one-day strike in Tucson late September

“Truthfully, I don’t want to stop at just St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s. I want to work on Arizona and get these hospitals unionized,” Valenzuela said.

Last October, nurses at St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s hospitals voted to join the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United. Today it has nearly 900 members. Valenzuela, a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital, currently serves on the union’s bargaining committee. The union is still in the process of negotiating its initial contract with Tenet Healthcare.

“Something that really appealed to me with the union is the strong patient advocacy that they achieve because of collective action,” Valenzuela said.

Last month’s strike involved 6,500 nurses at a dozen Tenet hospitals in California, Arizona and Florida. Tenet declined an interview, but sent a statement that said in part, “We are disappointed that the union undertook a strike action in Tucson, which in our view was not constructive or necessary. St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s hospitals continued to provide quality, compassionate patient care during the one-day strike called by the labor union representing many of our nurses.”

Valenzuela said the union took all necessary legal steps and gave the hospitals 10 days-notice to make other staffing arrangements.

This week, newsroom staff at the Arizona Republic in Phoenix also voted in support of forming its own union, known as the Arizona Republic Guild. Prior to that vote, Lorraine Rivera spoke to reporter Perry Vandell via Skype about his support for unionizing.

Vandell said talks began at the start of the year after the company laid off two employees. In 2015, he was also laid off by the paper and was rehired two years later.

“I know personally how devastating it can be to be laid off from the paper that you love so much. I had zero notice, I had maybe two weeks of severance and my health insurance would be gone by the end of the month,” Vandell said. “What we’re trying to do is give people more notice, a longer runway and fight against layoffs when they do inevitably occur.”

Concerns about layoffs arose when a merger between the Republic’s owner Gannett and GateHouse Media was announced earlier this year.

“GateHouse is set to buy Gannett and has publicly spoken about $300 million in cuts. And those cuts have to come from somewhere and will likely come from our own newsroom,” Vandell said.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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