Share this article

Nurse Strike News: A Group of Nurses Just Made Union History in Baltimore

Joelle Y. Jean, FNP-C, BSN, RN
Updated November 29, 2023
Edited by
    More than 500 nurses from Ascension Saint Agnes Hospital made history by being the first to organize a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Learn more about why they joined a union and what they want.
    Baltimore, Maryland skyline along waterCredit: Getty Images/500px
    • More than 500 nurses from Ascension Saint Agnes Hospital were the first nurses to organize a hospital in Baltimore.
    • The nurses filed charges with the NLRB against Ascension Health, citing management’s alleged interference with nurses trying to unionize.
    • After the successful union with NNU, Saint Agnes nurses say they can better address severe staffing shortages, lack of recruitment and retention, and patient care matters with more meaningful representation.

    Nurses from Ascension Saint Agnes Hospital made history by becoming the first to unionize a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. On November 2-3, the nurses voted to join the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU).

    With more than 225,000 members — including 2,500 nurse members from the 139-hospital Ascension health system — NNOC/NNU is the largest nursing union and professional organization in the U.S.

    “I am thrilled to welcome Saint Agnes nurses to NNOC/NNU on behalf of our over 225,000 members,” NNOC/NNU President Jean Ross, RN, said in a statement. “Your tenacity and commitment are an inspiration to your union siblings across the nation, and we look forward to working with you to achieve quality care at your hospital and for all patients.”

    The Ascension Saint Agnes Hospital nurses began their efforts in September when they filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against Ascension Health, one of the largest nonprofit Catholic hospital systems in the U.S. The accusations came just one month after Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops highlighted the importance of unions and their essential role in working families.

    “Unions should continue to be supported in their work that supports healthy, thriving families, especially those who are most in need, and encouraged in maintaining and increasing their focus on performing that critical role,” Gudziak noted in the statement.

    The allegations against Saint Agnes Hospital cited management’s alleged interference with nurses trying to unionize and deployment of illegal management tactics. A federal investigation will be conducted into the hospital’s handling of the situation.

    According to the NNU’s press release, unfair labor laws charges against Saint Agnes include:

    • Unlawfully threatening to withdraw and withdrawing benefits from employees because of the union’s representation petition;
    • Unlawfully making promises and/or granting benefits to stifle the union’s organizing campaign;
    • Unlawfully soliciting grievances to stifle the union’s organizing campaign;
    • Maintaining an unlawful no-solicitation policy and/or unlawfully enforcing its no-solicitation policy to bar off-duty employees from discussing the union;
    • Unlawfully surveilling employees engaged in union or other protected activities;
    • Unlawfully denying Weingarten representatives for nurses called into investigatory meetings related to union activities;
    • Making unlawful messages to employees that the selection of a union would be futile because the employer has a policy that it will not bargain over certain mandatory subjects.

    According to the statement, Saint Agnes nurses will now elect representatives for contract with Ascension and define key issues to bring to the bargaining table.

    Nurse Strikes on the Rise

    Union nurses can exercise their legal right to strike. Nurse strikes have risen since the COVID-19 pandemic, revealing systemic issues in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Concerns such as lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) are now replaced by nurses speaking out about their mental health, burnout, stress from their workload, low wages, and inadequate staffing.

    Since COVID-19, approximately 100,000 nurses left the workforce, according to the NCSBN. In a recent pulse survey of inpatient nurses conducted by the American Nurses Foundation, nurses leaving the profession has increased from 35% in the fall of 2022 to over 40% in March 2023.

    Some nurses continue to stay in the profession. Those represented by unions strike against unfair labor practices. Many are winning favorable contracts.

    In a recent win, nurses and other healthcare teams at Kaiser Permanente ratified a four-year contract, ending the largest healthcare strike in U.S. history. The agreement resulted in raises, bonuses, safer staffing, and a redesigned performance-sharing plan.

    Union nurses at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) in Pittsburgh avoided strikes by ratifying a new three-year contract. The contract promises raises, hiring new staff, and improving nurse-to-patient ratios.

    There are pros and cons to joining a union. One advantage of union-led nurses is that they have a better chance of successfully negotiating favorable benefits and working conditions for their members. Ascension Saint Agnes Hospital nurses will now have representation by the NNOC/NNU.