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Organizing for Better Pay in TN: Local Activists Say It’s An Uphill Climb

June 16, 2008

Lebanon, TN – Tennessee's Michael Chapman is on the front lines in healthcare, with ten years as a registered nurse. Until recently, he worked at Summit Hospital in Lebanon, where he says he was helping to organize nurses in order to improve patient care and work conditions. But Chapman says Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), the company that owns the hospital, made it clear that they didn't want employees to unionize.

"We have faced intimidation, through letters, mandatory meetings, one-on-one intimidation, and changes in position titles in order to exclude you from collective bargaining."

Some contend that union employees make costs higher for employers because union workers are better paid. But Chapman believes an organized workforce can help solve the nation's healthcare crisis, by uniting management and employees to work toward common goals.

"Organized labor is a collective of workers. These tactics and these decisions have really made it much more difficult on the guy who's just trying to do right by his occupation, and trying to make a living and provide for his family."

Chapman is convinced that he was fired because he was trying to form a nurses' union. His bosses claim that his duties as a charge nurse made him ineligible to take the role, but specific reasons for his dismissal have not been made public.

In Tennessee, only a handful of hospitals have nurses' unions, and most are facilities for military veterans. The National Nurses Organizing Committee has sent delegations to meet with Tennessee lawmakers, and reports that more hospitals are interested in, and making progress on, organizing.

Barbara Dab/Steve Powers, Public News Service - TN