After hospital discipline, nurses refuse to be silenced

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Jennifer Donaldson wanted to update nurses at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center about ongoing negotiations over nurse recruitment and retention, so she launched a six-minute Facebook Live video during a break from her job as a labor and delivery nurse. Even though she was exercising her legal right to communicate with members of her union, Donaldson was fired. The Ohio Nurses Association says the discipline was unlawful and an attempt to silence the union’s voice.

RNA Petition

Donaldson is vice president of the Registered Nurses Association/ONA, the union that represents more than 1,700 nurses at the hospital. RNA President Michelle Thoman, a medical-surgical nurse at the hospital was not on duty that day but, acting in a union capacity, helped Donaldson record the video. Thoman received a final written warning for her participation. Before this incident, neither nurse had prior disciplines on their record. In fact, Donaldson has spent 28-years as a labor and delivery nurse, is a nursing student mentor, and is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Cincinnati. Thoman began her nursing career five years ago at the medical center. She was chosen to be a preceptor for the Dedication Education Unit through the University of Cincinnati’s College of Nursing.

In June, the ONA filed five unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the medical center. The basis for the charges include serious violations of federal law, such as discharging an employee for engaging in federally protected concerted activity and acts by the employer that interfere with, restrain or coerce its employees in the exercise of their federally protected union rights. The union has demanded that the hospital reinstate Donaldson and remove Thoman’s disciplinary letter. The grievance hearing for the two union officers was postponed at least three times,  the most recent on Aug. 28. No new hearing has been scheduled.

Union members have been actively fighting for changes at the hospital, such as critical staffing, nurse retention, and rest and meal breaks for nurses. The nurses say the medical center’s actions to stop their momentum is alarming because their advocacy is focused on positive changes to the hospital. The illegal tactics employed by the hospital have only added fuel to the fight. For example, earlier this summer, the RNA held a rally with community allies to demand the medical center put an end to its union-busting antics.

“Our local really found our voice through our last contract fight, and now the hospital is trying to take out our leadership with this attack,” says Thoman. “To have the support of the Cincinnati labor community and the public was wonderful. The rally was truly a summer solidarity celebration.”

The RNA has launched a petition to reinstate Donaldson and rescind the warning against Thoman; the union has also called on the medical center to listen when the nurses tell the hospital what they need to do their jobs and continue their effort to put patients first. The RNA has also planned an informational picket on Sept. 10.

Show your support for our nurses who are fighting for a voice at work by adding your signature to the petition


[Adrienne Coles]