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Ascension Seton nurses vote to unionize

Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin.
Julia Reihs
Nurses at the Central Austin hospital voted this week to join National Nurses United, the nation's largest union for nurses.

Nurses at one of Austin's largest hospitals have unionized after a vote this week.

The vote capped months of organizing, and the measure to unionize passed resoundingly. Seventy-two percent of the 800 nurses at Ascension Seton Medical Center voted to join National Nurses United, the nation's largest union for nurses, on Wednesday. Nurses hope the union will mean more power in negotiating pay and lead to better working conditions amid pandemic-era turnover.

Matthew Clark, a nurse in the hospital’s intensive care unit, said nurses were worn down even before the pandemic.

“Over the last couple of years, nurses have been leaving the health care field in droves — and especially from our hospital," Clark said. "And they’ve been doing so because of feelings of really not being supported from our administration. The COVID pandemic was really a catalyst that accelerated the pathway that our facility and many other facilities were already on."

The vote comes amid a wave of unionizations in Austin and across Texas this year. Workers at Alamo Drafthouse, Starbucks, Tiff's Treats, Via 313, and Integral Care, the Austin mental health authority, all pushed to unionize this year. While Texas isn't known for being the most union-friendly state, Clark said the collective bargaining power now availed to nurses means they hope to secure guaranteed pay increases and on-shift breaks, as well as clearer on-call policies.

Clark said those issues were contributing factors to staffing losses during the pandemic — and the hospital's struggle to retain qualified local nurses. He hopes the union will give them a "real voice" in negotiating for better working conditions with Ascension.

"If we all collectively come together and demand change," he said, "we have the ability and the foundation and, now, the workplace protections to actively put pressure on our administration to do what's right and to give us the things that we need, so that we can safely care for our patients.

Clark said Ascension has yet to "meaningfully" recognize the union vote, aside from an email that said it would have to certify the election results. In a statement to KUT, Ascension said it supported the nurses’ right to unionize.

"We are united in our commitment to care for our community and those that we are privileged to serve," a spokesperson said in an email.

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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