Press Release

Women & Infants caregivers hold overwhelming no confidence vote due to ongoing grievances, disrespect and short staffing 

“We made the decision to vote no confidence because we are sick and tired of working short day in and day out and having our concerns brushed to the side.”

Rhode Island News: Women & Infants caregivers hold overwhelming no confidence vote due to ongoing grievances, disrespect and short staffing 

March 29, 2023, 12:22 pm

By SEIU 1199 New England

Nearly 1,400 Women & Infants caregivers, which constitutes 95% of workers who participated, voted no confidence in their employer. At Tuesday’s press conference, frontline caregivers described the reasons why: A historic number of unresolved grievances and arbitrations, a dire staffing crisis and an ongoing lack of clear, respectful communication around management’s alleged plans to stabilize and invest in the workforce.

“We made the decision to vote no confidence because we are sick and tired of working short day in and day out and having our concerns brushed to the side. I used to stay late because I loved caring for my patients. Now I stay late because we are working short every day. If they don´t get me help I am responsible for up to 29 patients,” said Regina Brown, a Certified Nursing Assistant in the Antenatal Care Unit, “You don’t push your workforce to the breaking point and then keep adding in additional stressors. We constantly bring important staffing issues and concerns about disrespect to management and they are doing nothing to alleviate the problem.”

SEIU at Women and Infants

For months, Women & Infants has ignored workers’ repeated attempts to engage in dialogue around use of American Rescue Plan Act funding to alleviate the worsening staffing crisis that threatens to compromise the level of care that can be provided to mothers and their babies.  

What’s more, for the last year, management has publicly refused to conduct fair and reasonable investigations into worker allegations of disrespect, harassment, racialized language and systematic mistreatment of the majority female and diverse membership.

“A fair amount of our EVS or housekeeping staff are Portuguese. I have heard that one particular supervisor refers to them as the Portuguese mafia. These individuals have put themselves at risk throughout the pandemic. This language reduces them to just a label and is completely disrespectful to their important contribution to patient care,” said Nancy Chandley Adams, a Nurse Lactation Consultant. “In another instance, I have heard a different manager allegedly tell a student who was breastfeeding, ‘Go pump, we don’t want you spraying all over us.’ No woman should be subjected to this type of demeaning language, particularly at a hospital that treats women and babies.”

Women & Infants unresponsiveness to the workers’ repeated attempts to resolve these issues has led to an unprecedented amount of unresolved union grievances that needlessly have to go through the arbitration process instead. Caregivers are calling on management to stop anti-union behavior and engage with workers to solve the hospital´s deepening healthcare crisis. 

“We want management to hear our concerns and respect our union rights. We want them to work with us to resolve our grievances so we can do what we do best, focus on patient care. We are determined to have our voice heard and will continue pushing until management gives its staff and patients the respect we deserve,” said Cassie White, a Registered Nurse in the Mother and Baby Unit.

Nearly 1,900 frontline caregivers who are members of SEIU 1199 NE provide quality care to mothers and newborns each day as well as provide a variety of women’s health services.

I am Kelli Price

Workers were wearing “I am Kelli Price” buttons outside the hospital. Uprise RI asked about the significance of that phrase and was told the following story. The story is from the worker perspective, and the “quotes” from management are not presumed to be exact – they are part of the way the story is told.

Kelli Price is an well-respected oncology nurse who has worked at Women & Infants for decades. She’s also an SEIU delegate. When the issues around respect and housekeeping came up, Price organized the workers to address management about the stress the workers were experiencing. About 15 workers walked into the management offices to express their grievances, only to have a door literally slammed in their faces.

“We just want you to know that we demand respect,” said Price through the door, “and as long as you keep disrespecting folks, we’re going to be getting together and demanding it.”

Price was issued a “no trespass” order by Women & Infants management and barred from entering the hospital or 30 days.

White organizers have led many such efforts before and since Price led workers in their effort. Price, who is Black, is the only organizer to be issued a no trespass order. Management told the union that Price’s actions were an “act of physical aggression.”

When asked who witnessed this physical aggression, management conceded that they had not asked any of the 15 workers Price led into the offices, because “we know thy would lie.” The workers in question are mostly Portuguese women who housekeeping at the hospital.

On the day workers were outside picketing, the no trespass order against Kelli Price was at an end, and she was allowed back into the building after 30 days.

Kelli Price, in defending her actions, said, “Union, non-union, delegate, non-delegate – I’m a human being – that’s why I’m standing up for these workers.”

Management determined that in saying these words, Price was not therefore acting as a union delegate, but as a human being, and therefore had given up her presumption of workers rights.

“You took your union hat off, and put on your human hat, so your actions weren’t protected,” determined hospital management.

District 1199 SEIU New England represents 29,000 health care and service workers in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Southeastern Massachusetts. In Rhode Island, 1199 SEIU NE represents over 4,000 members. 1199 SEIU NE is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) – a union of over 2 million members across the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. SEIU has been a national leader in pushing the growing Fight for $15 and a Union movement.